Super Bowl 58: San Francisco 49ers fight back to set up Kansas City Chiefs rematch

Brock Purdy is presented with the NFC Championship trophy
Image caption,Brock Purdy was the last player picked in the 2022 draft but has reached the Super Bowl in his first full season as San Francisco’s starting quarterback

The San Francisco 49ers produced a thrilling fightback to set up a Super Bowl rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas.

Defending champions Kansas City won the first of Sunday’s Conference Championship games, beating the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 to reach the NFL’s big game for a fourth time in five years.

The Detroit Lions, one of just four NFL teams never to play in the Super Bowl, then led 24-7 at half-time against five-time winners San Francisco.

But the 49ers scored 17 points in a dramatic eight-minute span to draw level, before going in front for the first time with just under 10 minutes left.

The hosts then held on to win 34-31 and set up a repeat of Super Bowl 54, when Kansas City beat San Francisco 31-20 in Miami.

After winning Super Bowl 57 last year, the Chiefs now have the chance to cement their dynasty by winning a third NFL title in five years and becoming the first back-to-back champions since the New England Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

San Francisco have been favourites to win Super Bowl 58 since late November because of their star-studded roster while Kansas City were playing in the AFC Championship game for a sixth straight year.

But in the last two weeks of the play-offs both teams have both had to dig deep to book their spot on the Strip on 11 February.

The 49ers, the top seed in the NFC Conference, had to come from behind to survive a scare against Green Bay in the divisional round before recovering from an even bigger deficit against Detroit.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, had to play on the road in the play-offs for the first time during their recent spell of dominance, yet they have still shown their championship quality by winning at Buffalo and now Baltimore, the AFC’s top seed.

Acrobatic Aiyuk catch turns game in 49ers’ favour

Brandon Aiyuk and Kindle Vildor jump for an aerial ball
Image caption,Brandon Aiyuk made this sensational catch to set up a momentum-shifting touchdown

Dan Campbell has turned around Detroit’s fortunes in just three years as coach, and the Lions have won more play-off games this month (two) than they have in the rest of the Super Bowl era, which started in 1966.

It seemed like they were set for another as they stunned the home crowd in California. On just the game’s fourth snap, Jameson Williams jinked through the 49ers defence for a 42-yard touchdown.

After a missed San Francisco field-goal attempt, David Montgomery crashed over as Detroit made it 14-0, before the 49ers replied with Christian McCaffrey also getting in for a short-yardage score.

The hosts continued to struggle against the run game as Jahmyr Gibbs got in from 15 yards, before the Lions added a field goal right before the half-time break.

A San Francisco field goal cut the deficit to 24-10 before a stunning catch by Brandon Aiyuk gave the 49ers hope. Both he and Detroit’s Kindle Vildor jumped for a deep pass just yards from the end zone and the ball bounced off Vildor’s hand and facemask before Aiyuk stayed alert to make an acrobatic grab.

Moments later Brock Purdy found Aiyuk for a touchdown, and the momentum was firmly with San Francisco after they forced a Detroit fumble which gave McCaffrey, favourite to be the Offensive Player of the Year, the chance to punch in his second score.

That levelled it up, and after throwing an interception in the first half, quarterback Purdy was superb in the second, setting up a field goal to make it 27-24, before Elijah Mitchell punched in another 49ers touchdown to ensure Williams’ second score was merely a late consolation.

Defences dominate as Chiefs deny top seed Ravens

The Kansas City Chiefs are presented with the 2023 AFC Championship trophy
Image caption,The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC Championship for the fourth time – all in the last five years

Baltimore had the NFL’s best record in the regular season (13-4) and their quarterback Lamar Jackson is favourite to be named this season’s Most Valuable Player.

He was up against reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and they looked set for a quarterback shootout as both threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter, but defences then dominated.

Tight end Travis Kelce, again watched by his superstar girlfriend Taylor Swift, claimed the opening score and continued to be a vital target for Mahomes. He caught all 11 passes to him for 116 yards to pass San Francisco legend Jerry Rice for most receptions in NFL play-off history.

After Mahomes fired a 19-yard dart to Kelce just inside the pylon on Kansas City’s opening drive, Jackson replied by escaping a sack to launch a 30-yard touchdown to Zay Flowers.

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift
Image caption,Travis Kelce was joined on the field by his girlfriend Taylor Swift as the Chiefs celebrated reaching another Super Bowl

The Chiefs then ushered Isiah Pacheco into the end zone, before making it 17-7 with a field goal right before half-time.

Kansas City’s defence stifled Jackson, sacking him four times, and pulled off two key plays to seal victory.

The first was a touchdown-saving tackle by L’Jarius Sneed at the start of the fourth quarter as the Chiefs cornerback punched the ball out of Flowers’ grasp as the Ravens receiver reached for the end zone.

Then with Baltimore still trailing 17-7 with less than seven minutes left, Jackson forced a pass into the end zone on second down, with his intended target Isaiah Likely surrounded by three defenders.

Kansas City’s Deon Bush claimed an interception, meaning it is set to be the second campaign in which Jackson, 27, has produced an MVP-winning season only for the Ravens to fall short in the post-season.

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