The Super Bowl MVP ended up — no shock — in the hands of Patrick Mahomes, who valiantly led the Kansas City Chiefs to a 38-35 victory in Super Bowl LVII over the Philadelphia Eagles.
But there was a legitimate case to be made for Nick Bolton being worthy of sharing the hardware.
The Chiefs linebacker spearheaded Kansas City defensively, leading the way with a game-high nine tackles and arguably the most important play of the game early for Kansas City — a 36-yard fumble return in the second quarter to tie the game at 14.
It was a play that came to Bolton in a dream recently.
“I actually had a dream about scooping and scoring and winning the Super Bowl, probably like two nights ago,” he said. “So for it to happen, it’s surreal.”
There were 45 more points scored after that, so you can forgive Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after the game for forgetting that his middle linebacker actually helped contribute to the shootout.
“We actually did score on defense, I forgot all about that,” Spagnuolo said. “So that was big.”
But what Spagnuolo could not forget is how he feels about Bolton, who along with Chris Jones has become part of the identity of his defense.
“I love him,” Spagnuolo said. “I think people should recognize (him). He’s gonna be a good player for a long time.”
Bolton’s fumble return came at a critical time. The Eagles were leading, 14-7, and had just crossed midfield, facing a third-and-1 at the Kansas City 47-yard line. A crushing false start by the Eagles’ Isaac Seumalo made it third-and-6, in a game where Jalen Hurts converted nearly every short-yardage try he had.
But on this play, Hurts was flushed from the pocket — pressured by a blitzing Bolton — and inexplicably fumbled the ball. It caromed off his leg backward several yards, and Bolton scooped it up for the game-changing score. It arguably was a 10- or 14-point swing, with the way the Eagles were moving the ball offensively in the first half.
It was no accident that Bolton was the one making that type of play, in Spagnuolo’s mind.
“Listen, you can’t play real good defense — solid defense — in any game without a guy in the middle (like Bolton),” he said. “He’s our quarterback, and (he) functions like that. He talks to me like a quarterback in the certain plays he wants to run.”
Bolton broke down the play in question.
“We just had a five-man rush,” he said. “They ended up pulling the center, I believe, that left two in the gap. So, they couldn’t block me and Chris (Jones), so I was unblocked. I was able to punch the ball out. Got a scoop and score. That was a surreal moment, as well.”
Amazingly, Bolton nearly had a second scoop and score.
The Chiefs scored on the first drive of the second half, cutting the deficit to 24-21 — and it appeared they were going to take the lead in a matter of seconds. Hurts found Miles Sanders with a pass in the flat, and the Eagles running back was immediately hit by the Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed. Just as he was before, Bolton was in the right place at the right time, picking up the loose ball and sidewinding 24 yards into the end zone.
Only one problem: It went under review and the overruling call said Sanders never completed the act of a catch. Bolton wasn’t stunned.
“I knew it was incomplete,” he said.
Had it counted, Bolton would have joined former Buccaneers DB Dwight Smith as the only man to run back two scores on defense in a Super Bowl. (Smith had two pick-sixes in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Oakland Raiders.)
The Chiefs were shaky at times defensively, as the Eagles rolled to TD drives of 75, 68, 75 and 75 yards and gained 25 first downs. But they had just enough stops at the right times, including a huge three-and-out that set up Kadarius Toney’s 65-yard punt return.
In the end, Spagnuolo admitted that the Eagles had his number at a few points in the game. But he praised his defense for the way it battled.
“I give them a lot of credit,” he said. “I think they got the better of us in a lot of situations. I was proud of the guys, and the way they came out in the second half. At least got the game to where Patrick could get us ahead.
“Didn’t like the long pass for a touchdown at the end, but one thing our guys do is believe in the other guys on the other side of the ball. That if we just hang in there, find a way to get a couple of stops, Patrick will find a way to get more points than they score, so thank god he did that today.”
Mahomes certainly won the game for the Chiefs in the end. But it’s a fair question to ask whether they’d even be in a position to win without Bolton’s early touchdown.
“I’ve got a lot of emotions going on right now,” Bolton said. “It’s a surreal moment for me.”