The San Francisco 49ers fell short in Super Bowl LVIII, losing 25-22 in overtime to Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. The 49ers led 16-13 with less than two minutes left in regulation. Then led 22-19 in overtime. The Niners defense was just one stop away from the title. Instead, Mahomes further fueled GOAT conversations as he raised the Lombardi Trophy once again.
Here are position-by-position grades for the game:
Brock Purdy had a couple of throws that could have been picked off, but one was because of a drop by Deebo Samuel and the other would have been a fantastic play by Trent McDuffie. The fact is, Purdy did a great job avoiding negative plays. He had no turnovers and only took one sack despite a rough day from the offensive line. With that said, it was also one of his least efficient games of the season and lacked one of those signature late-game dimes that seemed to clinch so many wins this season. Chris Jones undeniably led Purdy to airmail some downfield opportunities, but this was not akin to Super Bowl LV, when Tampa Bay derailed Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense through pressure. We’ve seen Purdy find a way to complete those throws at other moments. Purdy had a solid, bordering on above-average overall performance, but that was it.
Running backs: B+
Christian McCaffrey was once again the 49ers most dynamic weapon, racking up 160 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. But he also fumbled on the 49ers first possession inside Kansas City’s 30. It cost San Francisco a field-goal attempt and possibly even more points. Balancing out the positives and negatives from McCaffrey’s day brings the unit’s grade to a B, but Kyle Juszczyk’s impact as a blocked and on a pair of receptions lifts it a bit higher.
Tight ends: C+
George Kittle hauled in a crucial fourth-down conversion late in the fourth quarter that led to the 49ers final touchdown drive of the game. However, the 49ers tight end was relegated by injuries, playcalling, and Kansas City’s defense to primarily impacting the game solely as a blocker the rest of the way. When Kittle was briefly sidelined by injury, Brayden Willis was called for a hold.
Wide receivers: B
Jauan Jennings may have had a strong case for Super Bowl MVP if the 49ers had pulled out the victory. He completed a touchdown pass to McCaffrey on a fun trick play in the first half and caught Purdy’s only touchdown in the second. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel were both held in check by Kansas City’s top corners. Airyuk led San Francisco’s wideouts with 49 receiving yards on just three receptions (six targets). Samuel caught just three of his 11 targets for 33 yards. Granted, Samuel could have had some big plays downfield if Purdy had made more accurate throws.
Offensive line: D
Perhaps it’s unfair to knock the unit so much for getting dominated by Chris Jones who, after all, dominates most opponents. But the 49ers offensive line allowed Jones to dictate far too much of the game. McCaffrey racked up yards, but was rarely able to get anything going on inside runs, an area Kansas City had struggled in throughout the season. The 49ers offensive line had too many mixups in pass coverage against Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz-heavy approach. Even Trent Williams got called for a couple of out of character penalties.
Defensive line: A-
The 49ers defensive line was finally living up to expectations in the first half. Chase Young and Randy Gregory were wreaking havoc opposite of Nick Bosa while Arik Armstead was a force on the interior alongside Javon Hargrave and Javon Kinlaw. Yet, as the game wore on, the line seemed to tire, allowing Mahomes to get going and mount a comeback. The line generated three sacks, five tackles for loss, and seven quarterback hits over the course of the contest, and played quite well, but the result looks different if they had a stronger kick.
Early in the game, Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner were playing out of their minds. There may not be a linebacker in football who seems to take over games as completely as Greenlaw when he is at his best. Of course, Greenlaw was sidelined early, however, with a heartbreaking Achilles injury and was out for most of the game. Warner was able to keep Travis Kelce quiet for most of the game, but got beat for a big play late in the fourth quarter.
Oren Burks and Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles were solid in place of Greenlaw, but there is a difference between facing two dominant linebackers and a duo with a clear weaker link. As 49ers fans relive those designed runs for Mahomes, it’s hard not to think about Greenlaw’s dynamic speed making a difference if he didn’t bite on the fake.
The 49ers corners had the easiest task, and while they may not have dominated, they made sure that Kansas City’s receivers did not change any perceptions.
The 49ers safeties had some big coverage lapses, but Ji’Ayir Brown also made the defense’s best play of the game, intercepting a Mahomes pass.
Special teams: D
It’s a shame that Mitch Wishnowsky and Chris Conley’s exceptional special teams performances were overshadowed by a fumbled punt return and Jake Moody’s missed extra point, arguably the 49ers two most costly mistakes of the game. Moody made all three of his field goals, including a pair from beyond 50 yards, but his low extra point and the punt that landed on Darrel Luter Jr’s foot and could not be recovered by Ray-Ray McCloud will haunt the Niners faithful for years.