It will be a finger-pointing week as far as who gets the blame for the San Francisco 49ers after the team lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. To blame the defense is to ignore the Niners holding one of the best offenses to ten points halfway through the fourth quarter. It’s okay to give the Chiefs credit. Here are five takeaways from the game.
Inexperience prevails for the 49ers
What we saw in the Super Bowl was one coach that has experienced a lot in 21 years of coaching and another coach that has some growing to do. The 49ers stopped the Chiefs offense on two separate occasions. The Chiefs did the same. The Niners elected to kick a field goal on both on their third and short attempts, while the Chiefs decided to go for it. Kansas City “stole” two possessions and, in turn, added ten points on the scoreboard.
Looking at these scenarios in a defensive lens is going about it in the wrong way. If anything, they should be the reason you are more aggressive. Shanahan said after the game that he wanted to make sure Mahomes didn’t get the ball back before the half, which is why there was no timeout called, and 40+ seconds ran off the clock. For whatever reason, this has been a consistent theme throughout the season. Kicking field goals on fourth and short with an incredibly efficient offense and not adding points before the half. The media will say Shanahan doesn’t trust his quarterback, but it comes off as that’s just who he is as a coach.
Leaving George Kittle in to block on obvious passing downs in the fourth quarter proved costly. He’s your best player. If you can’t block Chris Jones or the Chiefs blitz—something the offensive line was struggling with—put in Kyle Juszczyk and leave your top receiving threat as a pass-catcher. I believe he’s a great coach. I gush about Shanahan every opportunity I get. In Super Bowl LIV, he proved that he’s a young coach that will need to evolve to get the 49ers over the hump.
In sports, nobody cares what you did through three quarters. At one point in the game, Jimmy Garoppolo was 17-for-20. He finished the game 20-for-31. A really good third-quarter drive to start the half and give the 49ers the lead looked to be the drive the Niners needed to give them a Super Bowl win. But batted passes and missed throws will be what most remember from Garoppolo in the Super Bowl.
Jimmy G just missed Kittlle wiiiide open on second down. Wow. Kittle may have scored.— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) February 3, 2020
That was in response to this play below, where Kittle was running free over the middle:
This was another big one. This, obviously, didn’t lead to points, unlike the miss above.
They got Kittle on TERRELL SUGGS and people are mad about SF not running the ball herehttps://t.co/kAfU7oCHhK— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) February 3, 2020
Which is why process>results. Because the 49ers scored on the drive in the first play doesn’t excuse not throwing the ball to Kittle. Garoppolo was inconsistent with his reads at the worst possible times, and it cost the offense. Many will have a “but what about Kyle?” response when bringing up Jimmy’s play, and vice versa. Both can have good and bad moments during the game, which is what happened.
Same for the defense
There were so many versions of “Mahomes is off” tweets for 3.5 quarters on Sunday. The 49ers pass rush was unbelievable all night, thanks in large part to Nick Bosa. There was a deep jump ball that was equally as bad as Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception, but Mahomes’ receiver made a play. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Kwon Alexander had an opportunity for an interception, but couldn’t hold onto the pass. The 49ers defense held KC to two scoring drives on six possessions and had two interceptions through three quarters. Even to start the fourth quarter, the 49ers held Mahomes to three completions on eight attempts. It was the deep pass to Tyreek Hill for 44 yards that was the backbreaker on 3rd & 15. Mahomes would finish the quarter going 8-of-14 for 114 yards and two touchdowns. The final scoring drive Mahomes turned got “Klay Thompson hot” where he could do no wrong. Great offense beats great defense, and that’s what happened on two drives, which was ultimately the difference.
Star rookie class
Before the late magic from Mahomes, the two best players on the field Sunday night were the first two draft picks from the 49ers. For the majority of the game, Deebo Samuel was leading the Niners in rushing and receiving. You may be able to point the finger at Shanahan for only getting Samuel seven touches, but Deebo was targeted nine times. Samuel had a long rush of 32 yards early in the game and finished with 53 yards on the ground. For what this offense needs, he’s a perfect fit and an undeniable superstar in the making.
Speaking of obvious superstars, Bosa. Watch the third and long play to Hill. Bosa was held on that play, and a handful of others all night. That didn’t stop him from living in the Chiefs backfield. Bosa was relentless all night. He finished with a quarterback hit, a sack, a pass breakup, and probably 10+ wins on the night. The moment wasn’t too big for the two rookies, and there is no doubt both have a bright future.
A year early
I know it’s tough to understand this a day after blowing a 10-point lead in the Super Bowl, but the 49ers were a year early. This was supposed to be the season Jimmy G goes through growing pains in his first full season as a starter while the 49ers find their identity on both sides of the ball. Coming into this year, everyone was worried about the defense not being able to hold their end of the bargain. The emergence of Raheem Mostert, Bosa, Samuel, Dre Greenlaw, Emmanuel Moseley, and on and on is something this team can hang their hat on.
Most teams have a very tight Super Bowl window because contracts, players aging, or that team just got hot at the right time, like this year’s Tennessee Titans. That’s not the Niners. Look at the way San Francisco won this season. Everything about the 2019 regular season is sustainable moving forward. Jimmy G threw for nearly 4,000 yards and had a TD/INT ratio of 27/13 while being in the top-10 of just about every meaningful passing stat. That wasn’t supposed to happen this season. Getting Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor back, and adding more pieces on both sides of the ball will make a stronger team stronger. This 49ers squad laid the foundation in 2019 for many years to come.