Neither Patrick Mahomes nor Jimmy Garoppolo had started in the Super Bowl before Sunday night. Mahomes led the Chiefs to a comeback 31-20 win over Garoppolo’s 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, with Kansas City’s quarterback earning MVP honors for orchestrating the fourth-quarter heroics. But which quarterback actually played better? The answer isn’t as definitive as would be expected.
Mahomes started off slow and couldn’t get his offense moving. He overthrew running back Damien Williams resulting in a three-and-out on the first possession.
Garoppolo led the 49ers—relying more on the run—down the field to score the first points of the game on a Robbie Gould field goal.
Mahomes found his footing after the first drive. He got the Chiefs going by moving the ball 39 yards through the air and used his legs on two crucial plays on the drive. On third-and-11, he gained 10 yards to put the Chiefs in position to have only one yard to go from the 5-yard line. He finished the drive with Kansas City’s first points, rolling out of the pocket, tucking the ball and rushing for the 1-yard score.
Early in the second quarter, with the 49ers trailing 7-3, Garappolo completed his first real pass of the game for 18 yards to Emanuel Sanders. But just two plays later, he threw the first interception of the game. He was under pressure and instead of taking a sack or throwing the ball away, he tried to make a play out of it. He heaved the ball deep downfield but Bashaud Breeland stepped in front of the pass and caught it for the first turnover of the game.
With the shorter field Mahomes was quick to get to work. He completed a deep pass along the sideline to Sammy Watkins for 28 yards. That ultimately led to a field goal to give the Chiefs a seven-point lead.
Garoppolo was quick to get back to work after his interception, completing a 16-yard pass. Running the ball four out of the seven plays, Garoppolo capped off the drive with a 15-yard pass to Kyle Juszczyk for a touchdown.
With five minutes left in the first half, Mahomes tried to lead his team to finish out the half with a touchdown. He started the drive with passes of 10, 9, and 10 yards. But the drive ended there.
On San Francisco’s final possession of the half, Garoppolo completed a pass for 20 yards. Then he threw a perfect throw more than 40 yards downfield but it got called back on offensive pass interference.
Both quarterbacks had similar stats at halftime: Mahomes was 12-for-18 with 104 yards passing, 11 rushing yards on two carries, one of which was the touchdown; Garoppolo went 9-for-11 passing for 89 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Still, came Mahomes made more plays in more critical times than Garoppolo did in the first half. He gets the slight edge here.
The 49ers had the ball to start the second half. Garoppolo completed passes of 15, 14, 5 and 3 yards to lead the 49ers to a field goal and a 13-10 lead.
Mahomes had roughly the same start with passes of 19, 4 and 9 yards. But then the pressure got to him and he fumbled, though the Chiefs recovered it. The next play, on third-and-long, Mahomes threw his first interception of the game, giving the 49ers and a Garoppolo the ball at their own 45-yard line.
Garoppolo finally looked comfortable. He led the 49ers to the 1-yard line on a pass-heavy drive. From there, Raheem Mostert punched the ball to extend the San Francisco lead to 10.
Down by 10 on third-and-5, Mahomes barely got the necessary 5 yards to extend the drive. He then fired passes for 9, 13 and 14 yards before taking a sack for a loss of 9. The next play Mahomes threw a dot to Tyreek Hill that bounced off of his shoulder pads and was intercepted—his second interception of the game. Though the pass was thrown a bit behind Hill, the receiver should have caught it.
The Chiefs and Mahomes were desperate after their defense forced the first San Francisco punt of the game. It was third-and-15 when Mahomes worked his magic. He extended the play and launched a 44-yard pass downfield to a wide open Hill. From the 21-yard line Mahomes targeted Travis Kelce in the end zone and a pass interference was called, moving the Chiefs to the 1-yard line. Mahomes rolled out and found Kelce in the end zone for the touchdown to bring the Chiefs within three.
Garoppolo tried to run some clock down on the next possession but instead was stopped. The 49ers were forced to punt it back to the surging Kansas City offense.
Mahomes, with momentum, was quick to pick up where he left off, with the big play coming on a 38-yard pass to Sammy Watkins down the sideline. On third-and-goal from the 5, Mahomes passed to Damien Williamson, who dived in for the score to put the Chiefs up by four.
Garoppolo and the 49ers had one last chance. On fourth-and-11 Garoppolo was sacked for a big loss.
The Chiefs got the ball back with the chance to run out the clock. Williams secured the win with a 38-yard rushing touchdown. Garoppolo’s last pass of the game was intercepted, giving the Chiefs their first Super Bowl win in 50 years.
Until there were about eight minutes left in the game, Garoppolo was actually the better quarterback. His team held a 10-point lead and he had protected the football aside from the one early interception. At that point, Mahomes had been picked up twice and the dynamic Chiefs offense we had seen consistently over the last two seasons was surprisingly limited.
But, the best quarterbacks make the plays when they matter most, especially when they aren’t having their best performance. Completing 26 of 42 passes for 286 yards and two passing scores isn’t the type of game we expect from Mahomes. But those two passing touchdowns came with Kansas City trailing by 10 and time running out against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Overcoming that is what sets Mahomes apart from Garoppolo.