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Chiefs defense follows 'survive, then thrive' motto to earn Super Bowl LVIII victory over 49ers

LAS VEGAS -- Chris Jones sat at his podium outside of Allegiant Stadium, awash in the glow of his third Super Bowl triumph.

The effort should have left him gassed. After four quarters and an overtime period of countless defensive stands to limit San Francisco to field goals, Jones had every reason to admit he's tired. He initially tried to play it off as the price of glory, but when pressed, he relented.

"I'm exhausted," Jones said, drawing laughter from media assembled around him. "I need a drink."

Jones and the Chiefs earned that drink with the same effort that powered them to Las Vegas. In a game in which nothing was easy for the Chiefs' offense, Kansas City's defense once again carried the day, keeping the Chiefs alive throughout a contest that seemed to only exist on the verge of slipping out of reach. Each time San Francisco mounted a promising drive, K.C.'s defense had an answer, allowing the 49ers to convert just three of 12 third-down attempts. And even when the 49ers did find the end zone -- first, via a double pass and later, as a result of a gutsy fourth-down decision -- they had to earn every yard.

The performance was just another product of a defense that has embodied its defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, whom safety Justin Reid proudly supported at his postgame podium, shouting "in Spags we trust!" upon arrival. And it was a defense that was not just carried by a few stars, but the sum of its parts, with All-Pro safety Trent McDuffie making a few massively important plays throughout the contest.

Perhaps the next time the Chiefs get T-shirts printed in support of their defensive coordinator, they should add McDuffie as a secondary character. McDuffie made his responsibilities look routine Sunday, winning single-coverage matchups and denying San Francisco multiple opportunities in key moments. His break-up of a deep pass to Deebo Samuel prevented a 49ers touchdown early in the second quarter, and in one of the biggest moments of the game -- with the Chiefs needing a third-down stop to have any chance of sending the game to overtime -- his third-down blitz produced the biggest deflection and incompletion of the night.

"(He's an) integral part of our defense," linebacker Nick Bolton said of McDuffie. "He just showcased some of his talent. He was able to travel around with Deebo, on the deep post, bat the ball down, underneath routes, cover slants, all that type of stuff. To have guys like that ... it makes your defense a lot better."

Unlike past seasons, the Chiefs got to Las Vegas on the backs of their defense, a unit that held the explosive Miami Dolphins to just seven points on Super Wild Card Weekend, and bottled up Lamar Jackson's Ravens to the tune of a mere 10 points in the AFC Championship Game. The theme carried over to Super Bowl Sunday, with Kansas City forcing San Francisco to punt five times, and to turn to rookie kicker Jake Moody three times, keeping the game within striking distance even when things weren't going right offensively.

All the defense needed was to buy a little more time. Stay alive. McDuffie, Jones, Bolton and Co. did just that, once again serving as the strength of the Chiefs and giving their offense enough possessions to work out the kinks.

Statistically, McDuffie's numbers don't paint a picture of an MVP-caliber performance. He didn't even make it to a news conference podium after the game. But the timing in which he made plays proved crucial to Kansas City's pursuit of its second straight Super Bowl triumph, especially in a game in which the margin for error was incredibly slim.

The Chiefs nearly learned just how slim that margin was when they forced the 49ers into a third-and-long situation to start overtime, earned a stop and watched officials wipe it away due to a holding penalty called on McDuffie.

In such a big spot, some might have let the mistake bury them. Not McDuffie, who has always had the utmost support of his teammates.

"We need you. We need you," Reid said of the message to McDuffie after the penalty that gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs. "That play is over with. We're gonna need you. You're gonna come back in and make another big play.

"Trent's been an All-Pro for a reason. He's the best cornerback in the league when it comes to being technical. And he's so cerebral and smart, you can do so many things with him. That was just a call that went their way on that play, and we just had to buckle up and knew we had to go out there and stop them again."

As it turned out, the Chiefs didn't need McDuffie to make another big play. That job fell on the shoulders of Jones, who broke through the line of scrimmage on third-and-4 from Kansas City's 9-yard line and recorded the last of his team-high six pressures, forcing another critical Purdy incompletion.

"We have a motto: We're gonna survive, then thrive," Reid said. "It was just about taking their best punch, settling in and at the point that we did settle in, going out there and being aggressive."

With the defense happy to take a seat on the sideline, it was time for Patrick Mahomes to go to work once again. Much like he did at the end of regulation, Mahomes led a 13-play, 75-yard drive that required him to convert on both third and fourth down with his legs to keep the Chiefs alive before finishing it off with a short pass to Mecole Hardman for the walk-off touchdown.

The score sent the Chiefs and their fans into hysterics, basking in the glow of becoming the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions in nearly 20 years.

They wouldn't have gotten there without the clutch performances of McDuffie, Jones and the rest of their stellar defense.

"That game was crazy," Reid said. "Top to bottom, it was tooth and nail, hard-fought battle. Bruises everywhere, my glove actually tore in half at one point, that's how physical the game was. But just excitement, and just a great feeling, man.

"Even better the second time."

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