SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Falling into an early hole was just what the Kansas City Chiefs needed to get going.
Patrick Mahomes threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns to rally Kansas City back from another double-digit deficit in the Chiefs’ 44-23 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
“I think we like playing when we’re down,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “I guess we like challenging ourselves at this point. No one got rattled. We came together as a team.”
Mahomes got off to a rough start in this Super Bowl rematch with his early interception putting Kansas City (5-2) in a 10-0 hole but that once again proved to be no problem as he led the Chiefs to touchdowns on six of the next seven drives.
Mecole Hardman scored on two TD runs and an 8-yard catch, Justin Watson caught a 4-yard TD and JuJu Smith-Schuster finished it off with a 45 yard catch and run. Clyde Edwards-Helaire also scored on a 16-yard run as the Chiefs had their most productive offensive game of the season.
“To go out against defense like this and show that we can still be explosive and have those big plays, I think that will bode well for us as the season goes on and people don’t know where it’s going to come from,” Mahomes said.
The comeback improved Kansas City to 13-9 with Mahomes when falling behind by at least 10 points with the most memorable coming in a Super Bowl win over the 49ers (3-4) following the 2019 season.
The Niners dropped back-to-back games despite getting a boost from the addition this week of running back Christian McCaffrey, who had 62 yards on 10 scrimmage touches in his San Francisco debut.
But San Francisco settled for three field goals and came up empty on another chance when Jimmy Garoppolo threw an interception at the goal line before Kansas City ran away with it in the second half.
“We definitely had our chances,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “It’s a great team and and we gave them too many easy ones.”
The Chiefs took control with back-to-back touchdown drives to start the second half. They started the opening drive of the third quarter at the San Francisco 33 following a 48-yard kick return by Isiah Pacheco and a personal foul on Jauan Jennings. Edwards-Helaire scored three players later to make it 21-13.
Kansas City made it 28-13 when Mahomes found Watson for the TD one play after Jerick McKinnon gained 34 yards on a third-and-20 screen pass.
“Once the defense gets a stop and once you’re on one, it’s like you’re playing Madden,” Smith-Schuster said. “They have the X-factor on the quarterback. They had one on Pat today. He was on fire.”
Mahomes then answered a TD pass from Garoppolo to George Kittle by hitting Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 57-yard pass on third-and-11 to set up Hardman’s second TD run.
Mahomes found Smith-Schuster on another third down play for the final TD.
“Our defense prides itself on eliminating explosive plays,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “That’s just what the game felt like. Just explosive plays, one after another just keeping drives going and then them finding a way to get in the end zone.”
Both teams blew some scoring chances in the final two minutes of the first half. Jaylon Moore was called for a false start for San Francisco on a field goal attempt, leading the Niners to punt.
But Skyy Moore muffed the punt and San Francisco recovered at the 12-yard line, only to give the ball right back when Garoppolo was intercepted by rookie Joshua Williams.
The Chiefs drove inside the 10 but had a touchdown negated by a chop block and then Harrison Butker missed a 39-yard field goal try. Kansas City led 14-13 at the break.
The Niners honored their alumni at the game, welcoming back the 2012 NFC championship team and presenting Bryant Young with his Hall of Fame ring. Coach Jim Harbaugh came back for the 10th anniversary of his team that went to the Super Bowl. It was his first time back with the 49ers since his the “mutual” parting following the 2014 season.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was not among the players who returned.
49ers LB Dre Greenlaw left the game with a right calf injury.
Chiefs: Host Tennessee on Nov. 6.
49ers: Visit the Rams on Sunday.