It was the defining play of Super Bowl LIV.
With Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs down 10 and looking helpless against the 49ers' defense, the 24-year-old wunderkind evaded pressure on third-and-15 midway through the fourth quarter, stepped up and threw a high-arching dime to receiver Tyreek Hill. The 44-yard pass set the Chiefs up at the 49ers' 22-yard line. They would score four plays later, cutting San Francisco's lead to 20-17. Three-and-a-half minutes later, they found pay dirt again, had the lead and all the momentum en route to a 31-20 win at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
It was the deep connection to Hill that got the Chiefs' high-octane offense ramped up. But how did a 49ers' defense that had been nearly impenetrable all game allow the explosive play?
As Mahomes explained to NBC Sports' Peter King, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley's coverage dictated that Hill would have a favorable matchup, allowing the Chiefs to turn the tide.
The play, "Gun trey right, 3 Jets Chip Wasp Y Funnel," had Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce bunched to the left. Hill ran a deep-post corner, Watkins a 16-yard in and Kelce a deep slant. The Chiefs had seen the 49ers' coverage before and Mahomes knew that if Moseley went with Watkins across the formation then he would have Hill matched up with safety Jimmie Ward.
"We had talked about that play kinda throughout the game," Mahomes told King. "We thought it was good versus the defense that they were playing. I just kinda asked. I asked [offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy], do you think we have enough time in the pocket to run this long-developing play? He asked me if I wanted it on first down, or with down and distance. I just told him, I don’t care about the D&D, I wanna run this play."
With the officials reviewing a completed pass on second down, the Chiefs were able to run through what they wanted to do on third-and-15 and fourth down, should they not convert on third down.
“With that little bit of a break we had, when they were reviewing the catch, we were able to talk through all scenarios," Mahomes said. "I had already talked with coach [Andy] Reid and coach [Mike] Kafka and EB. They had told me, if we [don’t] get after this right now, we’re going for it [on fourth down] ... If I don’t have Tyreek or Sammy on these two routes, let’s get it straight to that check down and give ourselves a chance at fourth down. I think that having that little bit of time and being able to discuss with the coaches what our plan was, it gave us a good game plan to go out there and execute at a high level on a crucial down in the game.”
Moseley, of course, followed Watkins across the formation, and Hill beat Ward out of his break, allowing Mahomes to hit him for the biggest play of the game and spark a Chiefs' offense that had been dormant all game.
The 49ers might have been in a lose-lose situation on the play. Had Moseley stayed with Hill, Mahomes likely has Watkins on the in-cut for a first down, albeit for a much shorter gain.
“If [Moseley] doesn’t stay there,” Mahomes said, “I throw that for the first down ... Once I saw Tyreek get 1-on-1 with the safety, I mean, that’s a matchup that I’m gonna take every time.”