LAS VEGAS -- From the moment the overtime drive began, the Kansas City Chiefs were thinking touchdown. Their defense was exhausted, but had managed to hold the San Francisco 49ers to a field goal to start the extra period. A Chiefs field goal would have continued the game, but that is not how champions think.
"Our mindset was, Go win it right now," Patrick Mahomes said.
"We knew having it in 15's hands, we were going to have a chance to win it," Nagy said. "We have been saying all year long, we've been calloused for these moments. What a fitting end to us having the ball on offense after the ups and downs this year, to have the ball to win it and we did it."
The Chiefs' 25-22 OT victory over the 49ers makes Kansas City the first back-to-back champion since the New England Patriots did it nearly 20 years ago. And, with a third title in five seasons, it makes the Chiefs the first post-Pats dynasty. This victory, this season, felt different than the previous two Lombardi runs. The Mahomes-led Chiefs had never looked as vulnerable as they had this season -- much as they did for a large portion of Super Bowl LVIII itself -- and the spotlight had never burned brighter, whether it was on Taylor Swift at their games, or the mistakes that threatened to wreck their season long before the playoffs even started.
"It means more," Mahomes said. "To be able to battle through the adversity, it prepared us for the playoffs."
"Adversity" was the word a lot of Chiefs used in the aftermath of Sunday night's triumph at Allegiant Stadium. They'd had to lean on their defense for much of the season, as their offense struggled with drops and penalties. They lost five of eight games in the middle of the season, and that stagnant stretch cost them home-field advantage, sending Mahomes on the road in the AFC playoffs for the first time. Kansas City's weaknesses still existed, but during the postseason, the Chiefs had been able to overcome them. Still, they were underdogs entering the Super Bowl, a ludicrous lack of appreciation for the wildly different levels of accomplishment between the teams. But K.C.'s offense sputtered again in the first half, even Swift was biting her fingernails in her luxury suite. The Chiefs' first-half drives ended punt, punt, fumble, punt, field goal. They were utterly dominated and so frustrated that tight end Travis Kelce screamed at Andy Reid, startling his head coach and bumping him.
At halftime, there was no real message, just adjustments. That, too, was like the season.
"When you're in it, you just focus in and try to fix the problem," Reid said of the midseason swoon. "It was drops and it was penalties, and if we took care of that, we were going to be OK."
And, Reid said, the Chiefs needed time for rookie receiver Rashee Rice to develop, which he did late in the season. Rice had six receptions for 39 yards on Sunday, with his most important contribution coming via a 13-yard catch on third-and-6 from the Chiefs' own 46-yard line in overtime. Rice remembered that, last year at this time, he was watching the Super Bowl, not knowing what it takes to win one. He had last won a championship as an 11-year-old in Pee Wee football. But on his first day of NFL training camp, he vomited from the exertion. Rice finished the season as Kansas City's second-leading receiver, fewer than 50 yards behind Kelce, but he had led the team with seven touchdown receptions.
"Some games might not be perfect, but we won as a team," Rice said, as a teammate somewhere screamed, "In Spags we trust!" to honor Steve Spagnuolo, who just became the first coach in NFL history to win four Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator.
Sunday night, every time Mahomes spoke to Rice, he told him they were going to score.
"He was speaking it into existence," Rice said. "I don't think Pat knows how to lose."
That, of course, is the X-factor that powers the Chiefs dynasty. In the overtime drive, Mahomes was 8-for-8 passing for 42 yards, and he ran for 8 yards on fourth-and-1 and for 19 yards on third-and-1. He, too, talked about adversity, but he also talked about the culture of the Chiefs, a culture that he joined when Alex Smith was still the quarterback. It is one that keeps pushing the Chiefs to be better, but also to try to enjoy their efforts.
With his third championship at age 28, Mahomes is already in rare air. The Super Bowl LVIII MVP demurs when he is asked about comparisons to Tom Brady, because Brady -- when he was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback -- beat Mahomes and the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. It seemed inconceivable then that anybody would even have a chance of approaching Brady's accomplishments. But just three years later, it is clear that Mahomes is the only quarterback who is of Brady's caliber. They are very different in playing style, but very much the same when it comes to mastery of the game and willing teams to victory.
Mahomes credits Reid for letting him be himself, for not trying to force him to be anybody else. But Mahomes sounded strikingly like Brady on Sunday night. With his shoulder pads still on, the star signal-caller was already thinking about what is next. There's the celebration Sunday night and then the parade in the coming week. And then there will be the return to work to get back to the Super Bowl again. Rice lives in Texas, the wideout noted, so he would probably hear a lot from Mahomes.
"Trying to go for that three-peat," Mahomes said.
No team has ever won three straight Super Bowls and there is still an important offseason ahead for the Chiefs. Reid said he plans to coach next season, putting to rest retirement speculation. But Kelce was slowed for much of this season and his future could be in doubt. Kansas City will surely try to add more pieces, too.
But the Chiefs just had their least dominant campaign ... and still hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Doubt them again at your own peril.
"Anybody on the outside would think we're underdogs because we didn't have a perfect season," Rice said. "But we're Super Bowl champs now."
It probably won't be the last time.