The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers set up a Super Bowl rematch on Sunday after battling through to the NFL championship showpiece on a dramatic day of playoff action.
The reigning champion Chiefs returned to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years after upsetting the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens 17-10 in Maryland to clinch the AFC Championship crown.
The 49ers meanwhile advanced to a repeat of their 2020 Super Bowl defeat to the Chiefs after staging a stunning second-half fightback to sink the Detroit Lions 34-31.
The Lions — one of only four teams who have never played in a Super Bowl — looked poised to end that jinx after storming into a 24-7 half-time lead before a shocked 49ers home crowd in Santa Clara.
But San Francisco rattled off 27 second half points at Levi’s Stadium to clinch the NFC Championship and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl taking place in Las Vegas on February 11.
Detroit were left ruing their risky second half decisions to pass up two kickable field goals in the second half in favor of fourth down conversions attempts that failed.
On both occasions, San Francisco regained possession and marched upfield to score decisive touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said his team had been determined to turn things around after being mauled by Detroit in the first half.
“We didn’t want to go out like that,” Shanahan said. “That would have been a real rough way to end it if we couldn’t play better with our group.
“I’m so proud of the guys. They didn’t really care about anything except finding a way to win. You could see it on their faces. You could see it at halftime. You could see it in that third quarter.
“You could see it all the way to the end of the game.”
San Francisco’s star running Christian McCaffrey ran in two of the 49ers four touchdowns, but was outshone by young quarterback Brock Purdy.
Purdy, finished with 267 passing yards, with one touchdown and one interception, but made a series of crucial scrambling runs at key moments to rally the 49ers.
The 24-year-old revealed the 49ers locker room had been calm at half-time.
“No one was rah rah, no one was freaking out. It was just — it’s football,” Purdy said. “There’s a lot of experienced guys on this team, veterans that have, you know, been in crazy situations.”
Lions head coach Dan Campbell meanwhile insisted he had no regrets about passing up the two field goal attempts at key points in the second half.
“It’s easy, hindsight, and I get it. But I don’t regret those decisions,” Campbell said. “And that’s hard because we didn’t come through, and it didn’t work out. But I don’t regret it.”
In the AFC Championship game earlier in Baltimore, the Chiefs downed the top-seeded Ravens with a performance that melded defensive grit with clinical offense.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — the presumptive NFL Most Valuable Player — was stifled by Kansas City’s swarming defense, while Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes marshalled his team brilliantly to lead them back to the Super Bowl once more.
“It’s been a heck of a year, we’ve been underdogs for the last few games but we never feel like underdogs,” said Mahomes, who threw one touchdown and 241 yards with no interceptions.
The Chiefs will now face the 49ers in a repeat of their 2020 Super Bowl meeting in Miami in which Mahomes led a late rally to secure a 31-20 victory.
Another Kansas City veteran of that Super Bowl victory — tight end Travis Kelce — was outstanding in Sunday’s win with 11 receptions for 116 yards, which included the Chiefs opening touchdown.
Kelce’s performance saw him surpass the legendary Jerry Rice in the record books for most all-time postseason catches.
The Chiefs star celebrated on the field after the victory with pop icon girlfriend Taylor Swift.
Mahomes, who will be chasing a third Super Bowl ring, had a message for his team-mates after the win.
“I told them ‘The job’s not done’. Our job now is to prepare ourselves to play a good football team in the Super Bowl and try to get that ring.”
Baltimore quarterback Jackson meanwhile said he was “angry about losing.”
“We are a game away from the Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “We’ve been waiting all this time, all these moments for opportunity like this and we fell short.”
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