How Mahomes' Chiefs beat Hurts' Eagles in Super Bowl 2023

Have you seen those viral videos in which a furious, disappointed fan responds to a crushing moment by smashing a hole in their television? As the first half of Super Bowl LVII came to a close Sunday night in Arizona, I suspect there were quite a few flat-screens being used as punching bags in the Kansas City area. The Chiefs were trailing the Eagles 24-14 after a dismal first half, with only a rare mistake from Jalen Hurts serving to keep them in the game. Patrick Mahomes, who came into the game with a high ankle sprain, appeared to aggravate his injury on Kansas City's final offensive play of the half. Andy Reid's team was being outcoached, outmuscled and out-executed by a more complete Philadelphia lineup.

Thirty minutes of football later, the Chiefs were champions for the second time in the Mahomes era. They played a near-perfect half of football on offense, scoring three touchdowns and turning down the opportunity to add a fourth. As ESPN's Ed Werder noted on Twitter, they turned into an unstoppable force after Rihanna's halftime show.

One good way to measure offensive dominance is down set conversion rate, which looks at every time a team took the ball on first down and sees whether it turned that series into a first down or a touchdown. The Chiefs converted 93.8% of their first downs into another first down or a touchdown in the second half, and the only reason they didn't hit 100% is because Jerick McKinnon slid down on the 1-yard line to set up the title-winning field goal. ESPN has data going back through 2000, and no team has ever done that in the second half of a Super Bowl before. Just three teams have done it in the second half of any playoff game.

There's a lot to get to with this Super Bowl, but let's start there. How did the Chiefs pull off a flawless second half on offense? After watching this game live and again a second time, there are a few things that stood out:

Jump to a topic:
What really won the game for the Chiefs
How the Chiefs got creative with the run
How Mahomes created magic throughout
The Hurts Show and the future of football
Did the officials really blow it?

What fueled the Chiefs' comeback?

Motion. It might seem simple, but motion and the threat of motion won this game for the Chiefs. Despite hiring Vic Fangio as a consultant for two weeks before the game, an Eagles defense that had been suffocating in victories over the Giants and 49ers simply didn't have answers for how Kansas City brought its players in motion pre-snap. Subtle differences created opportunities, while panic created touchdowns.

I would mostly split the motion into two groups. One was the short motion we saw from their receivers, where the Chiefs would make a slight movement just before the snap and end up with a stack or a bunch at the line of scrimmage. In doing so, they repeatedly were able to create beneficial leverage for their receivers against Philadelphia's defenders in coverage.

Stacking defenders in short motion also created favorable matchups for the Chiefs, like the one we saw on the Travis Kelce touchdown in the first quarter. There, Kelce originally was lined up against top Eagles corner Darius Slay on the outside, but when he moved behind Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the assignments changed. Slay ended up on the wide receiver, while safety Marcus Epps was lined up against Kelce. Epps tried to press Kelce at the line, but Kelce escaped and ran through the space Valdes-Scantling vacated for an 18-yard score.

I'm here to talk about the second half, though, and the motion that changed the game for the Chiefs was something that came up in my preview of the game. I mentioned that the Chiefs used jet motion with a receiver running horizontally across the formation before the snap to set up three touchdowns for Mecole Hardman in a win over the 49ers earlier this season, with two scores coming on a jet sweep and the third on a tap pass -- which is essentially the same thing -- only on a forward pitch to a receiver in front of the quarterback as opposed to a toss to one behind him. The Eagles apparently got the memo, because they were extremely conscious of that possibility.

Instead, Reid used the threat of that jet sweep and of horizontal motion to create first downs and touchdowns. The Chiefs hit a pair of big plays for 22 and 24 yards in the first half on snaps with jet motion, although the ball went somewhere else. They actually ran the jet sweep early in the third quarter with Skyy Moore for 4 yards, although the rookie wide receiver might have been able to pick up a few more yards if he hadn't slipped.

Let's run through a series of goal-line sequences to see how the threat of the jet sweep created opportunities for the Chiefs, because it helped set up or score each of their three touchdowns in the red zone. On the first score of the half, they brought Moore across the formation in jet motion to draw attention away from linebackers, then leaked McKinnon out into the vacated flat for an easy completion. McKinnon nearly scored, with a fine tackle from Avonte Maddox briefly saving a touchdown before Isiah Pacheco punched it in on the next play:

On the next goal-line series, the Chiefs ran the same idea, but this time as a run instead of a pass. Moore split out and then went in jet motion, moving Maddox off the line of scrimmage and into a safety role. Mahomes then handed the ball to McKinnon on a sweep into the vacated area, gaining 4 yards.

What happened on the next play was the clearest example of the Eagles expecting a jet sweep and getting burned for their aggressiveness. Kadarius Toney split out on the right side of the formation against Slay and began to sprint as if he were about to go in jet motion. Slay quickly signaled to his fellow defenders and retreated into the middle of the field to cover Kelce, but it was a ruse. Toney was running a jet return and simply turned back around to the space Slay had vacated for the easiest touchdown of his life:

The Chiefs weren't done. After Toney returned a punt to the Philadelphia 5-yard line, Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy still had more tricks in their bag. They used the threat of another Moore jet sweep to clear open the middle of the field on second-and-goal, although the Eagles defended that play well and forced a throwaway. On third down, they went back to a similar concept as the one on the previous touchdown, if not the same play:

Here, the Eagles sent the house on a blitz, forcing Mahomes to get the ball out quickly against Cover 0 behind. Each Eagles defender was locked up on a man, and for Moore, that player was Maddox. When Moore began to sprint across the formation in jet motion, Maddox had no choice but to sell out and sprint in that direction to try to catch up with him, since he had no help on the other side of the field. Instead, Moore simply stopped at the snap, turned around and walked in for the first touchdown of his NFL career.

The plays are different, but the concepts are the same. The Eagles know the Chiefs want to use that jet motion to get their playmakers the ball in speed without needing to block the end defenders on the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs know the Eagles are prepared to stop that concept, and so Reid & Co. had counterpunch after counterpunch playing off Philadelphia's ability to deal with that motion and react in real time on the fly. The Chiefs went 4-for-4 in the red zone before passing up the opportunity to score a fifth touchdown on that final drive, and they needed all of those touchdowns to win.

It wasn't just the jet sweep, either. Reid used a play that didn't even count to set up one that did. With Toney making a rare appearance on the field, the Chiefs brought him in motion behind Mahomes and threw him a swing pass, only for the play to be whistled dead for an offside penalty on Eagles defender Josh Sweat. On the very next play, the Chiefs showed the same motion and faked the swing screen to Toney. When two Eagles tried to jump the swing, Mahomes threw a fade behind them to JuJu Smith-Schuster for 13 yards, getting the offense into the red zone. For a player who played just five offensive snaps, Toney had a huge impact on this game.

Running the ball. Sometimes fate can be very cruel. Time after time during his tenure in Philadelphia, Eagles fans brayed about Reid's refusal to commit to running the football, which was often blamed for costing them playoff games. Never mind that the Eagles had an efficient passing attack, or that Reid essentially was seeing the future of the sport and handing his team a huge competitive advantage by choosing to throw at league-high rates. There is no problem in the NFL for which running the ball is not brought up as a solution.

Well, on Sunday, Reid's offense sparked to life by running the ball all over the Eagles. In the second half, Kansas City rushed 17 times for 126 yards and six first downs. The Eagles' only stops for negative yardage on the ground came on a pair of Mahomes kneel-downs, the ones that set up the game-winning field goal. Forty of those yards came from Mahomes, who picked up two key first downs on scrambles despite aggravating that ankle injury.

Those runs played a key role in winning the game. The Chiefs added 37 percentage points of win expectancy with their runs in the second half. To put that into context, no Reid team had ever added more than 26 percentage points of win expectancy with second-half runs in a playoff game before Sunday. Reid's offenses had topped that win expectancy on the ground in the second half just four times across 407 career coaching appearances since the year 2000. His teams don't often need to run the ball in the second half to catch up, but this was one of the most fruitful rushing halves of his entire career, and it came at an important time.

In part, the Chiefs ran because the Eagles put them in position to run. In looking at the 12 carries given to McKinnon and Pacheco during the second half, seven came with two deep safeties, including six of the first eight rushes after intermission. The league has moved toward more and more two-high looks over the past few seasons as more defenses have adopted Fangio-style principles, but Reid hasn't necessarily been willing to run into those looks in years past, preferring to trust Mahomes or use run-pass options (RPOs) without committing to running the football.

Although the Chiefs did use RPOs at times, they mostly trusted their offensive line and bullied the league's deepest defensive line up front. They used their first offensive snap of the game by running counter, the classic run play with two pulling linemen coming across the formation to clear out opposing defenders. They ran it several other times Sunday, including the Pacheco touchdown.

The Chiefs ran plenty of other concepts, too. They ran duo out of their three-TE sets. Reid even pulled something out of the mid-'90s to convert on third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter, with a play out of a split backs formation most teams haven't put on the field since the Clinton administration:

The Eagles didn't do a great job of dealing with those straightforward runs. There were too many times when they ended up with two defenders in the same gap. On the above Pacheco run, no defender holds an edge to force the play back to the defensive help. Jordan Davis and Linval Joseph, their best nose tackles, each played just 10 defensive snaps. Instead of their rotations, the Eagles went with heavier doses of their four best linemen in Sweat, Haason Reddick, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, all of whom played more than 75% of the snaps. The tactic didn't work.

Mahomes was magical, but not in the way you might expect. When you think of Mahomes doing special things, you probably think of no-look passes, missiles launched off screen for long touchdowns or scrambles that seem to go on for minutes before finding an open receiver. He is a lot of things, but he's not usually subtle: He's great in ways that are easy to recognize.

On Sunday, Mahomes' numbers -- 21-of-27 for 182 yards -- were pedestrian. His longest completion was 22 yards, and that came in the first quarter. The guy who once struck fear in safeties covering downfield attempted just one deep pass traveling 20 or more yards in the air, an incompletion to Valdes-Scantling on a play in which the wideout had the leverage for a back-shoulder completion but didn't run his route far enough outside to connect with the pass.

Where Mahomes was brilliant, instead, was in his movement. Despite dealing with the ankle sprain, he kept the Chiefs afloat at times by moving within the pocket and extending plays. Those opportunities didn't turn into completions in the first half, but they did more often in the second half.

The Eagles pressured Mahomes on 35.5% of his dropbacks, which is actually higher than their season average of 32.1%. During the regular season, when the Eagles pressured the opposing quarterback, they generated sacks 33.3% of the time, which was the league's highest rate by nearly 5 percentage points.

With 10 pressures Sunday, history would tell us the Eagles should have had at least three sacks. Instead, they didn't sack Mahomes once. The pass rush got close, sometimes remarkably so. It just didn't finish the job, in part because Mahomes was able to escape those pressures and get rid of the ball. To stay upright all game against one of the most productive pass rushes in league history is truly impressive.

This shouldn't be a surprise, because Mahomes is also the best quarterback in football at keeping pressures from becoming sacks. All pressures aren't created equal, but during the regular season, opposing pass rushes turned just 11.7% of their pressures into sacks on Mahomes, which was about half the league average and the league's best mark by more than 3 percentage points. Since taking over as the starter in 2018, Mahomes is the only quarterback to be sacked on fewer than 15% of his pressures; he's at 11.2%.

Reid and Bieniemy also called a game that allowed Mahomes to get the ball out quickly, especially during the second half. His average pass over the final two quarters came after just 2.46 seconds, which was down from 2.93 seconds in the first half. The former mark ranks as the third fastest for the second half of any playoff game during the Mahomes era.

Mahomes finally chipped in with three scrambles, including the 26-yarder that set up the winning field goal. The Eagles rushed five and played Cover 1 on that play, leaving him a window if he could get past the line of scrimmage. Mahomes wasn't pressured, but he still managed to step up into the pocket and run away from two Eagles linemen on a bad ankle to get Kansas City into the red zone.

The Chiefs' offensive line also deserves some credit. It played well, especially during the second half. Mahomes was pressured on back-to-back snaps at the end of the first half, which led to a scramble and the aggravation of the ankle injury. As soon as it felt as if the Eagles might be beginning to get things going up front, though, halftime came, and the Chiefs played better after seeing Rihanna's performance.

One other factor that didn't help: the field. Players slipped and struggled for traction throughout the game, with reports suggesting the painted spots on the field were particularly vexing. Reddick, Philadelphia's star pass-rusher, suggested after the game- that the field was the worst he had ever played on. As we saw during Cincinnati's blowout win in Buffalo amid the snow, a sloppy field can wreak havoc on pass rushes, and it didn't help the Eagles here.

At the same time, the other team plays on the same field, and the Chiefs didn't have much luck rushing Hurts. While Hurts technically was sacked twice, both came on scrambles in which he attempted to run forward and was instead taken down for a 1-yard loss. The Eagles have a better pass rush than Kansas City, but given the Chiefs' inexperience and issues in the secondary, they might have been even more dependent on their pass rush than Philadelphia expected to be on its own.

One thing was for sure: Rush or no rush, Hurts delivered in a big way, even if it came in a losing effort.

The Jalen Hurts Show

Had the Eagles won this game, the lede for my column was going to be about how we had just seen the future of football. Even though they lost in the long run, we've taken a glimpse into what this sport will look like in the decades to come. With one significant and obvious momentary exception, Hurts played incredibly Sunday. How he got there hints at how the game is changing and where it's going.

If you had a time machine and dropped the 2022 Eagles into the 2005 NFL season, there might be a rash of defensive coordinators with exploding heads. The Eagles use Hurts as the focal point of a quarterback run game with option components. They use RPOs to create easy completions and quick decisions for Hurts. When all that fails, they trust in analytics and attempt to convert fourth downs with their offense, something that still gets analysts going today when it fails to pan out.

All of that was working for the Eagles on Sunday. Hurts was the focal point of the rushing attack, and although they managed only 115 yards on 32 carries, they racked up 12 first downs and scored three touchdowns, all on Hurts carries. He scrambled for 12 yards, but most of his 70 rushing yards came on designed calls.

He was able to hurt the Chiefs on the same quarterback power concept three times. One produced a 14-yard gain, while the second racked up 28 yards on a fourth-and-5. Hurts finished that drive off with a 4-yard touchdown on the same concept, waltzing into the end zone virtually untouched. While the Eagles use center Jason Kelce to pull on power as opposed to a guard or a tackle, this is no different from the concept the Panthers used with Cam Newton during his career.

Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo tried to do gap exchanges on the edge, where a defensive end takes a linebacker's gap responsibilities in the running game and vice versa, to try to fool Hurts to keep the ball on option looks and run into a defender. It worked once or twice, but the Eagles had so much success running Hurts on power that they didn't really need the zone-read concepts for Hurts running the ball outside.

Hurts also ran Philadelphia's favorite push sneak six times for six first downs, two of which were touchdowns. He scored three rushing touchdowns; in 2005, there were a total of four quarterback rushing scores across the entire postseason combined.

The Eagles naturally integrate runs into their RPO packages, and although they didn't run a ton of RPOs in this game, they popped up here and there. The Chiefs did a good job of taking away the first and second looks on an RPO in the first quarter, but Hurts was able to buy time before finding DeVonta Smith for 13 yards.

All of this stuff isn't supposed to be in pro playbooks. The quarterback run game and heavy doses of RPOs are what you're supposed to see on Friday and Saturday, when less advanced offenses rely on having a great athlete or two to blow away opposing defenses. The league wrote off Lamar Jackson as a playoff disappointment and Colin Kaepernick as a flash in the pan. The zone-read and RPOs were fads great defenses were supposed to hit out of the league a decade ago. Instead, Hurts and the Eagles were running them with a title on the line.

This stuff isn't going away, especially as schools send more and more quarterbacks with a lifetime of experience playing in these offenses to the NFL. The stresses they place on opposing defenses are real and not easily solved. The Chiefs don't have a great defense, but the 49ers do, and they were whittled away over four quarters by Hurts and Philadelphia two weeks ago.

As much as some would like to pretend that analytics shouldn't matter and that fourth-down decisions should be as simple as doing what coaches did 60 years ago, Nick Sirianni relied on trusting the data in the key moments of Sunday's game. Announcers have found a way to work around this issue by crediting a coach's "aggressiveness" when he goes for it on fourth down and succeeds, blaming the analytics when that same coach goes for it on fourth down and fails, but the decisions are one and the same.

No coach, not even Sirianni, goes for it often in situations unsupported by the numbers. The Eagles are also one of the league's most analytics-influenced teams, in a tier alongside the Ravens and Browns, and have been since Reid's tenure two decades ago. The Eagles attempted a fourth-and-5 at the Kansas City 44-yard line, something that would have been heretical for an NFL coach to do even a decade ago. They converted for 28 yards, and it was never mentioned again. They picked up another fourth down on the same drive when Hurts drew the Chiefs offside on fourth-and-2, setting up a touchdown, as well as a fourth-and-1 in field goal range later in the game.

Coaches are getting more aggressive as time goes on, and while the league still leaves plenty of opportunities on the table in situations in which the evidence suggests going for it would be optimal, there's less resistance to going for it on fourth down than ever before. What would have been absurd a decade ago is weekly habit at this point. A team that punts or kicks in those fourth-and-short situations, as Reid did against the Eagles, is handing its opponents free points of win expectancy.

As I mentioned in my preview, being comfortable with options on fourth down also allows an offense to change its playcalling on early downs. We saw just that from the Eagles, as they were happy to run the ball or throw short of the sticks on third down, knowing they were entirely capable of converting on the next play. Dealing with that messes with a defense's heads.

Getting an extra down to convert also gives a team a chance to take shots early in the series, and we saw the Eagles hit a pair of big plays on first downs in this game. Although they might have been freed up by a nontraditional comfort level with fourth down, they situationally did something teams have been doing for years with these plays.

When offenses pick up a new set of downs around midfield, defenses typically stay alert for shot plays and worry that something big is coming downfield off of play-action. The Chiefs might have been alert, but I'm not sure it mattered. Hurts hit A.J. Brown for a 45-yard touchdown pass on first-and-10 in the first quarter, while Smith got into the act by bringing in a 47-yard catch on first-and-10 in the fourth to set up the tying field goal.

I was concerned about Hurts' accuracy as a pure passer coming into this game, but I shouldn't have been. He was on fire for most of the day, hitting his receivers in the hands with perfectly placed throws. His best of the day was the 15-yard pass to Dallas Goedert on third-and-15, a deep out that Hurts placed into a teacup versus Tampa 2 coverage. Making this throw takes supreme confidence and impeccable accuracy. Hurts had both Sunday.

Hurts is excellent at recognizing blitzes on the fly and getting the ball to where it needs to be before the pass rush can get home, and it gave Spagnuolo fits at times in the first half. We saw Spagnuolo send sim pressures and more traditional rushes during the first 30 minutes, but Hurts didn't seem even the tiniest bit rattled.

In the second half, the Chiefs had more success. Spagnuolo upped the pressure rate from 17.5% during the first half to 36.8% over the final two quarters. Hurts went 2-of-5 for 12 yards against those pressures, posting a QBR of just 9.5, although those numbers included a drop on what should have been a long completion to Quez Watkins that hit the third wideout in the hands.

There was no real consistent trend to these pressures, although Spagnuolo dialed up a few exotics throughout to try to keep Hurts honest. One blitz off the slot from Willie Gay helped blow up a third-and-2 and end a drive deep in Eagles territory, earning the Chiefs one of their two three-and-outs and setting up the 65-yard Toney punt return. There wasn't any sort of blueprint that will slow down the Eagles in 2023, but Spagnuolo is a creative thinker and found a way to get home in a couple of key moments.

The one exception for Hurts was the play in which he coughed up the ball, kicked it on the way down and essentially handed the Chiefs a touchdown. It will be a hard pill to swallow in the offseason, but it wasn't as if he was blindsided by a big hit or was careless as a ball carrier. He just happened to lose the ball at a terrible time and was unlucky to then kick it away to set up a Nick Bolton scoop-and-score. It obviously was a mistake and a critical play in hindsight, but I don't think it was a product of Hurts' style of play.

Hurts and this Philly offense aren't going anywhere, but it'll be harder to get back to this moment than it might seem. He had a cap hit of $1.6 million in 2022, but he is now eligible for a massive extension. The Eagles will surely sign him to the new deal he has earned this offseason, which will begin to shrink their cap pool and cause general manager Howie Roseman to make cutbacks elsewhere.

Young quarterbacks who looked to be on pace to make perennial visits to the Super Bowl don't always get back. Carson Wentz and the Eagles made a trip during Wentz's rookie deal, but Hurts' predecessor never won a playoff game after inking his own big deal with Philadelphia in 2019. Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl and lost another during his rookie deal, but he hasn't been back after signing an extension with the Seahawks in 2015. I'm not saying the same will be true for Hurts or for fellow extension candidate Joe Burrow, but most general managers struggle to build a championship-caliber team around their highly paid quarterback in the modern NFL. Brett Veach, who just won championship No. 2 with Mahomes, has been able to make it work.

The fourth-quarter call, and what really happened

One other factor figured into the end of this game, and it turned what had been a classic into an anticlimactic ending. Facing a third-and-8 in the red zone with a tie game and 1:54 to go, Mahomes was pressured and tossed the ball up in the end zone toward Smith-Schuster, whose role in the offense grew as the game went along. Smith-Schuster faked a shallow or drag route and converted it into a wheel. The throw wasn't particularly close, but cornerback James Bradberry was flagged for defensive holding, allowing the Chiefs to run out the clock before kicking a game-winning field goal.

Two weeks after the Bengals-Chiefs game was affected by a series of dramatic and questionable calls, there was an immediate uproar. When the early replays looked to show modest amounts of contact between Bradberry and Smith-Schuster, Twitter melted down. The same people who were furious about the calls in the last game were now joined by Eagles fans who felt as if they had been cost a shot to win the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for them, one important voice ruined the argument. Bradberry himself admitted he had held Smith-Schuster on the play. The star cornerback, having his best season as a pro, went for the drag route and grabbed Smith-Schuster by the hips as he turned upfield. That's a penalty, and not a particularly unreasonable or uncommon one.

In every NFL game, there are penalties that go uncalled. There was a natural argument in some spaces that the league and its officials should have "let the players play" in such a key moment late in a Super Bowl. Nobody tunes in for the referees, so they should have swallowed their whistles with the game on the line. Right?

Well, think about what the other implications of that philosophy would be. "Letting the players play" sounds great if they're not committing penalties, but if players know they can get away with holding or pass interference or any other judgment call in key situations, they're going to take advantage of those rules and create a whole other conflict.

Nobody said the refs were right to let the players play when the Rams committed a clear pass interference on defense against the Saints during the 2018 playoffs without being flagged. That's an extreme example, but players are smart enough to adapt what they're doing for the game situation and the referees involved. Treating those situations with the game on the line as different from ones earlier in the contest only means you'll get lots of replays with uncalled holds and contact, which won't be met with praise.

Most players I've spoken to want consistency so they can have a baseline for how to perform during a game. If an officiating crew is going to call holding more often than another, players can adjust, but they don't want to wait until the fourth quarter. Teams and even agents track this stuff with the crews during the regular season and inform their players accordingly.

It's true this had been a relatively hands-off game, with the only other judgment call on the books before the fourth quarter having been an offensive pass interference call on Eagles wideout Zach Pascal. In this particular instance, though, the most obvious missed call in pass coverage before the Bradberry play had been ... a play in which Bradberry grabbed Smith-Schuster's arm on third-and-8 in the second quarter and no flag was thrown.

Social media also reinforces our worst habits as football fans. A conspiracy theory about the game being decided for the Chiefs spread farther and wider than Bradberry's admission of guilt. It's incredibly easy to share screenshots and video clips of bad calls, even if some of those calls aren't actually wrong, which was the case with many of the decisions in the Bengals-Chiefs game. Thirty years ago, you might have seen a clip of a bad call once on Sunday and then never again. Now, those plays show up in social media timelines over and over for days afterward. I'm not complaining about social media -- fans will be fans and the technology can be helpful, too -- but the access we have to watch and rewatch bad (or secretly correct) calls is wildly different from what we had when those calls were equally as bad as 30 years ago.

The league should be embarrassed about an element of the game Sunday, but that would be the quality of the field, not the refereeing. Likewise, although the Eagles would have loved to have seen Bradberry get away with a holding call with the game on the line, they lost this game because they couldn't stop the run, they let Toney take a punt 65 yards to set up a touchdown, they handed the Chiefs a touchdown on a fumble recovery and they allowed the Chiefs to go 4-for-4 in the red zone. They also committed a penalty at exactly the wrong time, even if that penalty yielded an unsatisfying finish.