By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – The NFL will cap its centennial season with a compelling Super Bowl featuring the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers that will highlight a clash of styles and two dynamic young quarterbacks poised to lead the league into its next hundred years.
Back in Miami for a record 11th time, the National Football League is planning a week-long party of the century with something for everyone including a championship game on Feb. 2 between the throwback 49ers and high-octane Chiefs.
The 49ers, coached by Kyle Shanahan who turned just 40 in December, play a run-first, hard-hitting style that was more in vogue when Jim Brown and Gayle Sayers were blasting through defenses back in the 60s.
The Chiefs, coached by 61-year-old Andy Reid, are explosive and creative with a play book that looks like it was lifted from a video game.
“Fired up, fired up to go Miami, I need to go on a diet so I can fit into my clothes,” Reid told reporters. “They don’t care about the score,” he said of his team, “they just bring it and that’s paid off for us the last couple of weeks.”
How the 49ers and Chiefs reached the 54th Super Bowl is a contrast of style and philosophy.
In two playoff contests, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, 28, completed just 17 of 27 passes for 191 yards.
During one stretch of Sunday’s NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers, Garoppolo went 90 minutes without throwing a single pass.
Instead the Niners leaned on a top-ranked defense and the running of Raheem Mostert, who rumbled for 220 yards – second most in NFL playoff history – and four touchdowns, to brush aside the Packers 37-20.
Earlier on Sunday, the Chiefs were tackling another run-first outfit in the Tennessee Titans, led by Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher. Henry had steamrolled over Tom Brady and the defending champion New England Patriots and the top seed Baltimore Ravens on the way to the AFC title game.
The Titans ground game, however, was no match for the Chiefs explosive, quick-strike offence led by 24-year-old phenom quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who threw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score in a 35-24 win to send Kansas City back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
A week earlier in the division playoffs against Houston, Mahomes tossed five touchdowns, including four in the second quarter, as the Chiefs erased a 24-0 deficit and wiped out the Texans 51-31.
With the help of a speedy receiving corps of Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and running back Damien Williams that looks like it could contend for a 4×100 meter relay Olympic gold medal, Mahomes has thrown for 608 yards and eight touchdowns in two postseason contests.
So there lies the storyline that will dominate the two-week buildup to the big game, and it is an intriguing one that will be dissected, discussed and debated ad nauseam by experts and bar stool pundits alike.
Can the 49ers do what the Titans could not do against Kansas City and run the ball with enough effectiveness to keep pace with a Chiefs attack that has become known as the “Legion of Zoom”?
And can the Chiefs protect Mahomes from the NFL’s top pass rush long enough to give their young quarterback time to find cracks in a ferocious San Francisco defense that has been rock solid?
(Editing by Richard Pullin and Bill Berkrot)