Sneed’s forced fumble, McCaffrey’s touchdown among the plays that helped Chiefs, 49ers keep going
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Maybe it will be a long touchdown pass by Patrick Mahomes, or a sack by Nick Bosa. Perhaps there will be a last-second field goal.
The key play of this year’s Super Bowl between Kansas City and San Francisco could be obvious when it happens. Or it might only be clear in hindsight. If it’s the latter, the win probability charts published by numberFire will be helpful in determining the most important moments. They measure how much each play impacted the competing teams’ chances of winning, based on score, time remaining, possession and team strength.
Defensive touchdowns can obviously create big swings in win probability, but there are a variety of ways a game can change, and that’s been evident in the games that led to this week’s Super Bowl matchup.
Here are the plays — one for each game — that have shaped this year’s postseason:
TEXANS 45, BROWNS 14
Key Play: Steven Nelson of the Texans intercepts Joe Flacco and returns the ball 82 yards for a touchdown with 6:05 remaining in the third quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Houston’s win probability by 22.38%.
Down 24-14, the Browns needed some magic from Flacco in the second half, but the bubble burst when his pass under pressure sailed into Nelson’s waiting arms. The Houston defensive back had plenty of blockers down the sideline and easily made it to the end zone. Flacco would throw another pick-6 1:59 later, and the rout was on.
CHIEFS 26, DOLPHINS 7
Key Play: Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs scrambles 28 yards to the Miami 10 on fourth-and-5 in the second quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Kansas City’s chances of winning by 11.5%.
The Chiefs led just 10-7 in frigid conditions after allowing a long touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, but Mahomes broke free for this big gain when the Dolphins’ defense had a chance to get off the field. Although Kansas City settled for a field goal on this drive, the Chiefs prevented Miami from building momentum.
PACKERS 48, COWBOYS 32
Key Play: Darnell Savage of the Packers intercepts Dak Prescott and returns the ball 64 yards for a touchdown with 1:50 remaining in the second quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Green Bay’s chances of winning by 11.9%.
Dallas was already in big trouble but was at least driving in Green Bay territory near the end of the half. Then Savage picked off Prescott’s pass over the middle and had open field in front of him, giving the Packers a 27-0 lead.
LIONS 24, RAMS 23
Key Play: Offensive lineman Rob Havenstein is flagged for holding, pushing the Rams back to the Detroit 44 on third down with 4:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Detroit’s chances of winning by 29.39%.
Down 24-23, Los Angeles only needed a field goal to take the lead, and the Rams might have already been in range — or at least in position to go for it on fourth down — when Aidan Hutchinson drew this penalty on Havenstein. The Lions accepted it, and after an incompletion on third-and-14, Los Angeles punted. Detroit ran out the clock.
BILLS 31, STEELERS 17
Key Play: Kaiir Elam of the Bills intercepts Mason Rudolph in the end zone with 10:52 remaining in the second quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Buffalo’s chances of winning by 7.18%.
The Steelers were down 14-0 but had driven all the way to the Buffalo 4-yard line before Elam stepped in front of Diontae Johnson for an interception in the end zone. The Bills drove the other way for a touchdown, and that was a hole Pittsburgh couldn’t climb out of.
BUCCANEERS 32, EAGLES 9
Key Play: Baker Mayfield of the Buccaneers throws a 44-yard touchdown pass to David Moore with 5:47 remaining in the first quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Tampa Bay’s chances of winning by 12.35%.
After struggling mightily down the stretch in the regular season, the Eagles could have used a good start against Tampa Bay, but instead they fell behind 10-0 on this touchdown. Moore — who had only five catches during the regular season — was all alone when he took Mayfield’s short third-down pass around the 35 and worked his way through a handful of Philadelphia defenders downfield.
RAVENS 34, TEXANS 10
Key Play: Ka’imi Fairbairn of the Texans misses a 47-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Baltimore’s chances of winning by 7.65%.
Houston played well in the second quarter but couldn’t make the top-seeded Ravens sweat all that much. The game remained tied at 10 because of this missed field goal, and Baltimore dominated the final two quarters.
49ERS 24, PACKERS 21
Key Play: Christian McCaffrey of the 49ers runs 6 yards for a touchdown with 1:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased San Francisco’s chances of winning by 28.54%.
The 49ers trailed 3-0, 13-7 and 21-14 in this game. They were still down 21-17 late — meaning a field goal was no use — but McCaffrey had a hole on the right side of the line on third-and-1, and San Francisco survived and advanced.
LIONS 31, BUCCANEERS 23
Key Play: Aidan Hutchinson of the Lions sacks Baker Mayfield on third down from the Detroit 38 early in the third quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Detroit’s chances of winning by 10.17%.
Another big play by Hutchinson with an opponent on the fringe of field goal range. With the game tied at 10, Tampa Bay faced a makeable third-and-4 but ended up punting after this sack. The Bucs never did take the lead in this game. In fact, Detroit would not trail at any point in this postseason until the fourth quarter of the NFC title game.
CHIEFS 27, BILLS 24
Key Play: Tyler Bass of the Bills misses a 44-yard field goal with 1:43 remaining.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Kansas City’s chances of winning by 25.68%.
If Bass had connected, the game would have been tied at 27. Buffalo wouldn’t have been out of the woods yet — that’s a lot of time to leave Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense — but after the miss, the Chiefs needed only two plays to secure a game-clinching first down.
CHIEFS 17, RAVENS 10
Key Play: L’Jarius Sneed of the Chiefs forces a fumble by Zay Flowers near the goal line, and Trent McDuffie recovers in the end zone for a touchback with 14:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased Kansas City’s chances of winning by 18.19%.
Kansas City led 17-7 after three quarters, and Baltimore’s best chance to put pressure on the Chiefs evaporated when Flowers fumbled just before reaching the end zone.
49ERS 34, LIONS 31
Key Play: Tashaun Gipson of the 49ers forces a fumble by Jahmyr Gibbs, and Arik Armstead recovers for San Francisco at the Detroit 24 with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Win Probability Shift: This play increased San Francisco’s chances of winning by 17.89%.
The 49ers trailed 24-7 at halftime, but they’d pulled within a touchdown when Gibbs fumbled on the first play of Detroit’s ensuing drive. Just over two minutes later, the game was tied, and the Lions never lead again. ___
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