At a book-signing the day before the NFL conference championship games, a young man asked me about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 1970's dynasty.
For the record, Chuck Noll’s club won 4 Super Bowls in 6 seasons, the most by one team in one era in NFL history. I assured the young man this remarkable achievement would never be duplicated, literally a sports record that would endure forever.
Then, I caught myself: “Unless Kansas City somehow beats Baltimore tomorrow. Then—hey, who knows?”
Andy Reid’s Chiefs did indeed beat the Ravens, on the road in Baltimore no less. This Sunday, they’ll play in Super Bowl LVIII, their fourth appearance in the big game in five years. A win would earn KC its third Lombardi Trophy over that span, putting them on pace to equal what Pittsburgh did in the 1970’s, back before free agency could dismantle a team’s roster in short order. The Chiefs just might do it.
Standing in their way are the San Francisco 49ers. With a win of their own, Kyle Shanahan’s team would secure the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy, tying them with Pittsburgh and New England for the most all-time. The Steeler fan in me does not want that to happen. Interestingly, San Francisco’s bought-and-paid-for defense, replete with All-Pro’s, free agent signings and immense salaries, may be the reason I get my wish.
Despite earning a wild card bye, the well-rested Niners D looked adequate at best in back-to-back playoff wins over Green Bay and Detroit. If not for a pair of 4th down gambles that failed (by Dan Campbell), the Lions did pretty much what they pleased against SF—and one of those plays was a very catchable pass that would have extended a Detroit possession and quite possibly resulted in a three-score, second half Lions’ lead.
Rest assured, Andy Reid has identified and catalogued San Francisco’s defensive vulnerabilities. Over his future Hall of Fame career, Big Red’s record when he has two weeks to draw up his offensive gameplan is 30-6. And Andy’s offense quite suddenly appears to have found a razor-sharp focus.
During the regular season, Patrick Mahomes’ quarterbacking magic often failed to compensate for dropped balls, dumbass penalties, and long lapses during which KC’s offense played less than championship football. But during the postseason, Isiah Pacheco is running like the Tasmanian Devil, Chiefs’ receivers are catching passes, and Travis Kelce is playing like the future Hall of Famer he is!
And that’s not all. KC defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit has allowed just 5 touchdowns in three postseason wins, none on the ground—and just 41 total points! In the AFC Championship, his blitz and contain schemes not only shut down the Baltimore Ravens’ vaunted run game, but they also undermined MVP Lamar Jackson’s confidence as a passer and team leader.
Just a single field goal for the Ravens in the second half of that game—and 7 total second-half points for the Dolphins and Bills in KC’s first two playoff victories: a grand total of 10 second-half points allowed in their last 3 contests. That’s defensive dominance!
This week, Spags goes head-to-head with Kyle Shanahan, one of the game's best offensive play callers. Like his father Mike before him, who “developed” and perfected some of the following, Kyle runs inside zone and outside zone stretch plays with great success, due largely to the brilliance of Christian McCaffrey, 2023’s leading rusher with 1459 yards. San Francisco’s skill player set is without equal, and Shanahan’s play-action pass designs provide a bevy of big-play, YAC (Yards After Catch) receivers with balls caught in stride and the chance to shred defenses with demoralizing chunk plays.
As for the quarterback who runs Shanahan’s operation: Brock Purdy remains one of the best-known-while-still-developing stories in the modern NFL.
By now, we all know about Brock Purdy, aka "Mr. Irrelevant"—the very last player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. If you’ve read my blogs this season, you know I consider Purdy to be an excellent NFL quarterback, period—pedigree aside. Critics call him a game manager, which for some reason has become a pejorative term when referring to NFL signal callers. Critics zero in on his infrequent errant passes then openly wonder if the 49ers would be better off with a first-round stud playing the position.
So how do these critics account for Purdy’s two outstanding fourth quarter runs against Detroit that pretty much iced San Francisco’s come-from-behind win? Were they "game management" moments? I guarantee you neither was part of Shanahan’s game plan, nor something Kyle wanted his young quarterback to do. Moreover, how do they explain away the 17-point second half deficit that Purdy and his skill-player colleagues overcame?
Game managers, by most definitions, don’t do these things. Bottom line: Brock Purdy knows how to run Shanahan’s offense. He understands that McCaffrey keeps pass rushers honest and makes play fakes work, that Brandon Aiyuk catches most balls thrown his way, that George Kittle maxes out every reception, and that Deebo Samuel wants and needs to handle the football if San Francisco is going to win.
Joe Montana, a fourth-round selection out of Notre Dame, won 4 Super Bowls for the 49ers. Tom Brady was selected in the sixth round by New England, yet somehow managed to play in 10 career Super Bowls and win 7 of them. So why is the final 7th round pick not qualified to win important football games?
If the 49ers defense holds up this weekend, and Brock Purdy puts up enough points to beat the Chiefs, lots of know-it-all pundits will have large portions of crow on their dinner plates Sunday night. Conversely, if Patrick Mahomes’ magic can lift Andy Reid’s team to a third Super Bowl win in five years, Pittsburgh’s seemingly unrepeatable 1974-79 six-year domination could well be equaled by next year’s Chiefs.
Kansas City started this Super Bowl run with a come-from-behind win over San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV (54). And Patrick Mahomes remains alive and well.
Your move, Mr. Shanahan!