A play away from a championship in so many different ways led to death by a thousand cuts, as the San Francisco 49ers fell in overtime 25-22 to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers put a few fingers on the team’s sixth Lombardi Trophy but could never quite grab it. The margin of defeat has never been smaller, made all the more agonizing by coming in the biggest game.
An all-out effort on defense and an excellent game plan from Steve Wilks kept Patrick Mahomes in check, but with the game on the line Mahomes delivered.
The 49ers were visited by the ghosts of championship games past. A fumble while the offense was humming, a punt trickling off a blocker then a mental mistake by the returner turning the game, costly three-and-out possessions in the second half of a Super Bowl against Kansas City. All the greatest hits made an appearance along with a blown extra point.
Yet those ghosts were met by the resolve of this year’s playoff team. With everything falling apart emotionally these Niners came back for the third playoff game in a row. That new path to victory and resilience almost won a championship. But this team doesn’t want to hear about almost.
For Kyle Shanahan, it’s a mixed bag. Brilliant play designs that put a safety on Brandon Aiyuk for clutch gains. Three-and-outs drained momentum for a team that lives on momentum.
Shanahan had his team ready to play from the opening kickoff but the team says they were unaware of the new overtime rules. Unfortunately, Shanahan has the painful distinction of being on the losing end in both Super Bowls that went to overtime.
Coming up just short yet again makes me draw the Greek mythology parallel once more. Shanahan is the NFL’s version of Sisyphus, fated to push a boulder up to the top of the mountain only to see it fall down the other side.
How much of that is on Shanahan the offensive coordinator and head coach, there are concerns about not learning from past mistakes. Shanahan the actual GM is the root cause of roster blueprint problems that have contributed to not winning a ring. That’s a different story for another day.
Nick Bosa – Three quarterback hits and two tackles for loss, Bosa’s lane discipline kept Mahomes caged in and was critical to the Niners' defensive success. Bosa kept this game close.
Jauan Jennings – Had the Niners hung on for the win he would have been my vote for MVP. A touchdown pass, tremendous effort on his touchdown catch, and clutch blocking all day. Jennings is a restricted free agent, the Niners clearly cannot afford to let him go.
Christian McCaffrey – He was the center of gravity and engine of the offense with 160 total yards on 30 touches. The fumble hurt early momentum. McCaffrey had great overall stats but 3.6 yards per carry were not enough.
Steve Wilks – No effort issues today, Wilks had his side fired up and playing well, shutting down the run game and bringing consistent pressure on Mahomes. The defensive line maintaining lane discipline on the rush as the Raiders did to limit Mahomes was a shrewd tactic. The Niners defensive line hasn’t shown that all year. Duplicating it next year will be important.
Ji’Ayir Brown – Second in tackles with 11, seven solo, with a pass breakup and an interception. The rookie proved once again that he’s a big game playmaker.
Ray Ray McCloud, Darrell Luter Jr., and Special Teams Coach Brian Schneider– The returner needs to call Luter off the ball to prevent exactly what happened. Miscommunication is on all three. McCloud trying to scoop the ball up rather than falling on it may have cost the team a championship. He needs to apply the situational awareness that the ball is primary and forget the return. That’s on McCloud and Schneider, who both may be looking for new teams.
Some would say add Jake Moody, and yes he blew the extra point, but he also hit field goals from 53 and 55 yards that are too far for Robbie Gould. I’ll also point out that had Moody made the extra point Kansas City would have gone for it on 4th rather than kick a field goal. The way the game went they probably would have scored six.
For Brock Purdy, he was a play away a few times, forced into critical incompletions by unblocked rushers. Purdy handled the spotlight well but will need draft help up front.
A tip of the cap to content creator Vish Kumaran for summing up both Niner losses to Kansas City in the Super Bowl succinctly. He points out that the Niners were the better team for the vast majority of both games, but Kansas City is unmatched situationally – and that is where they win hardware.
Andy Reid and Steve Spagnuolo are the best situational play callers in the game and are making a case for the best of all time at it, with Mahomes on the path to GOAT status. That triumvirate has to be stopped situationally, that’s their margin of victory.
So that turns to Shanahan. How do you beat Kansas City situationally when they have the Trio of Time leading them? That’s in the next column.
The Chiefs are a deserving champion and now go for the NFL’s first threepeat. Can the Niners stop them? Can Detroit or Green Bay? Can Jim Harbaugh? As we’ve just seen, it’s going to take a team ready to make cuts of their own.