It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it would have been if the Dallas Cowboys had been the team hoisting the Lombardi trophy at the end. But Super Bowl 54 turned out to be a very entertaining affair, with the game close until inside the two minute warning and a big comeback by the Kansas City Chiefs to win over the San Francisco 49ers. With the game in the books and a little time to mull things over, I have some thoughts about what the Cowboys could take away from the game as they begin work to try and another ring.
While there were plenty of predictions both ways, the ones that saw the 49ers coming out on top tended to cite one thing in particular. The feeling was that the superior San Francisco defense would be the difference maker, since the old trope is that defense wins championships.
The 49ers defense was the superior one on the field. They had four sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, eight quarterback hits, four tackles for a loss, and six passes defended. Only one stat, passes defended, favored the Chiefs on the night. And in the end, despite Patrick Mahomes having a poor performance until halfway through the fourth quarter, it didn’t matter. The Chiefs exploded for 21 points after the Niners took a 10 point lead with 2:35 left in the third quarter, and those points for KC came in the final 6:13 of the game.
This was a Chiefs team that thrived on comeback wins, including all three of their playoff wins this year. It basically operated under the philosophy that you can slow them down for a while, you just can’t stop them for the entire game. They accomplished this particular victory with relatively few big plays. Only four of them were for more than 20 yards.
Admittedly, the Chiefs may not have filled up the defensive stat sheet, but they did a good job of also limiting big plays, only yielding three over 20 themselves. But in the end, it was that offense, which had a lot of big short yardage plays along the way, that carried the day.
The decision to hire an offensive minded coach in Mike McCarthy is a plus for Dallas.
Quarterbacks matter - a lot
There was some disagreement with Mahomes winning the MVP trip to Disney World. But it was very much his heroics that made the real difference. Yes, the deck is clearly stacked in favor of the quarterback, but that is just the nature of the modern NFL. You live and die by the quality of your quarterback. There are some exceptions, but it is the most likely way to achieve ultimate success.
Now Mahomes is going to get paid. $40 million a year is being bandied about as what he is about to receive. With the need to re-sign Dak Prescott, this is going to be very relevant for Dallas. Prescott’s price is just going to go up. While he is not the quarterback Mahomes is (no one else has one, either) he is certainly able to make big plays with his arm, his decision making, and his legs. He is a pretty good fit for the mode of the athletic quarterback.
The Cowboys are going to get him signed at some point. The question is just how long it drags out and how much acrimony could possibly accrue. Frankly, they should bite the bullet and work harder at meeting his demands. They have a far greater chance at winning it all with him than with any other approach.
Running backs, however, don’t
This is not good news for the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott has the biggest running back contract in NFL history. The evidence from this Super Bowl is that was a gross misuse of resources.
The leading rusher in the entire game was the Chiefs’ Damien Williams. He had 104 yards in a game where neither team put up gaudy offensive numbers. A big chunk of that came on the victory sealing 38-yard touchdown run with just 1:12 left. It was one of the biggest defensive breakdowns of the night for the Niners, but his work all game had some arguing that he was the real MVP. That is probably in error. What is a pure fact is that he entered the league as an undrafted free agent and was signed as a free agent by Kansas City in 2018 - at a tenth of the cost of Elliott.
For that matter, the leading rusher for the 49ers was Raheem Mostert, who entered the league as - wait for it - an undrafted free agent. Their second leading rusher was not even a back. WR Deebo Samuel got 53 yards. Similarly, Mahomes was KC’s second biggest ground gainer, including their first touchdown.
There is nothing the Cowboys can do to fix this. It really adds to the argument that you don’t need a top five running back to succeed in the NFL. Not even close.
The draft isn’t the only way to build a champion
In the case of the Chiefs, it was not the biggest tool they used, at all.
Let’s look at the Chiefs roster for a bit as we fully move on to the off season:— Joey Ickes (@JoeyIckes) February 3, 2020
Only 17 of the 53 players on KCs roster were drafted by the Chiefs.
While they certainly have some vital elements of their team that were drafted, with Mahomes the obvious number one, they got the rest of the roster through various types of free agency or trades.
That is not to argue that drafting well is unimportant. It is just pointing out that a team has to be willing to employ all the tools it has to acquire players. Obviously, free agents can also be flops.
Fortunately, the Cowboys seem to have become a bit more willing to explore trades and free agent signings, with Amari Cooper, Robert Quinn, Randall Cobb, and Michael Bennett among others playing roles this past season.
Old coaches need love, too
While most have gotten on board with the McCarthy hire and the way he has constructed the staff, there are still some who harbor disappointment that Dallas did not go hard after Lincoln Riley, Matt Rhule, Urban Meyer, or a hot NFL coordinator. But the long-delayed championship for Andy Reid shows that very experienced coaches have not been left behind by the modern game.
Whether that will hold true for McCarthy and his staff remains to be seen, it is certainly encouraging. After the taint of coaching the Philadelphia Eagles has faded for Reid, it was just a feel-good moment to see him finally get that trophy.
And he also knows what trophy is really important.
Super-Bowl winning HC Andy Reid at this morning’s press conference: "I didn't spend the night with the trophy. I spent it with my trophy wife."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 3, 2020