For the first three quarters of Super Bowl LIV, the 49ers did the impossible. They made Patrick Mahomes look like somebody Bears general manager Ryan Pace would have drafted.
They intercepted two of his passes. They stopped him from throwing a touchdown pass. They harassed him. They made him look human.
But then the fourth quarter happened. With the Chiefs down 10 points, Mahomes threw two touchdown passes to lead his team to a 31-20 victory. Oh, and he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
It wasn’t his best game, but it was the one that best describes what makes him great.
“We never lost faith,’’ Mahomes said. “That’s what it’s all about. Nobody on this team had their head down.’’
Why would they? They had Mahomes.
Not to belabor a certain point, the one that asks what the Bears could possibly have been thinking when they chose Mitch Trubisky over Mahomes in 2017. The point that asks the street value of the substance Pace had taken that night. The one that asks a pitiful ‘‘why, oh, why’’ and then starts sobbing in its pillow.
So, no, not to belabor that point at all.
When it mattered most, Mahomes pushed away the ordinariness that had afflicted him most of the night. What might have been, Bears fans.
This is nothing against Trubisky, per se. It wasn’t his fault that the Bears chose him so high. He’s a very rich man because of it. It’s not his fault he’s not as ridiculously good as the Bears thought he was when they traded up to get him.
He’s nowhere close to being as good as Mahomes. That’s not on him. It’s on Pace.
Was Sunday Pace’s worst nightmare? No. It was part of a long, painful nightmare. It was the culmination of a nightmare in which the train doesn’t stop, the parachute doesn’t open and the girl doesn’t know your name.
It’s one thing for the Bears to have made a poor choice. It’s another when the player they passed on looks like he was one of those once-in-a-generation talents. And that the player is only 24.
We’re being told that questioning the Trubisky selection is the definition of hindsight being 20/20. It might be hindsight for a fan or a writer to look back and say the Bears should have taken Mahomes instead of Trubisky. For a general manager, there is only the moment of truth, and Pace blew his. You can’t look at Pace’s decision in the context of what conventional thinking was in 2017. Special talent evaluators find the special players, even when they seem to be in disguise.
We all have Trubisky fatigue. It’s February. We should be talking about something else. Pitchers and catchers. The NBA All-Star Game. But Mahomes keeps dragging us back to a night in 2017 where everything changed for two franchises.
He had the 49ers right where he wanted them Sunday night. His team was down 20-10 to start the fourth quarter. The Chiefs had been down by 10 points twice to the Titans in the AFC Championship Game and still came away victors. So here came more of the same, right?
Apparently not. Mahomes threw an interception on that first drive of the final quarter. It was so out of character for him, so far away from the expected storyline that it was disorienting. Who took Mr. Mahomes, and would they please return him?
A 44-yard completion to Tyreek Hill and a pass-interference call led to Mahomes’ first touchdown pass of the night and a three-point game with 6:13 left. Would it be enough?
On the next series — and for the first time all night — the Chiefs’ defense made the 49ers go three-and-out. Mahomes followed with a 38-yard completion to Sammy Watkins that pushed the Chiefs to the San Francisco 10. Asked for comment, the 49ers said, “Uh-oh.’’ Damien Williams’ five-yard touchdown reception led to a 24-20 lead with 2:44 left. It wasn’t over.
But it was over.
“Coach Reid told me to keep firing,’’ Mahomes said.
Anyone who had seen the kid play the last two seasons could have been forgiven for thinking that a spaceship had delivered him to Earth. He was blessed with an arm that could deliver footballs to tight spaces, legs that could escape angry defensive linemen and a mind that saw things on a football field that others couldn’t see.
But for the first three quarters Sunday, he wasn’t himself.
For the last quarter, he made sure he was.