Football is a violent game that features more variance and luck than most are willing to admit. The San Francisco 49ers had two of the most costly plays in the game go against them.
After moving the ball efficiently on the first drive, Christian McCaffrey — a player who received first-place votes in the MVP ballot — coughed up the ball for the first time in nearly a quarter of a year. McCaffrey had been as reliable as anybody in the NFL all season. But on 1st & 10, the 49ers lost almost a touchdown in EPA, and their win probability went down by almost 16 percentage points.
McCaffrey took ownership, saying, “I can’t
As McCaffrey went to make a cut,of he lowered the ball in his right hand, which was enough for the Chiefs’ defender to poke a hand in and jar the ball loose:
FUMBLE ! Leo Chenal force une perte de balle de Christian McCaffrey, et George Karlaftis récupère #ChiefsKingdom #SBLVIII@TheGK3 | @chenal_leo | @Chiefs— NFL France (@NFLFrance) February 11, 2024
@beinsports_FR 3 #NFLextra | @M6
“High and tight” is a phrase you’ll hear running back coaches yell during any practice at every level. That wasn’t the case in this play, and it’s another example that when even the best players in the NFL don’t execute the finest details, the opponent will take advantage.
Kansas City didn’t score on their next four possessions. Holding Patrick Mahomes to a field goal in a half of football qualifies as a Herculean effort. We knew, at some point, he’d breakthrough, but leaving a touchdown, or a field goal, off the board in the first drive of the Super Bowl with a chance to put pressure on a Hall of Famer was costly, to say the least.
McCaffrey’s fumble was controllable. The special teams blunder was as well, to a degree. Darrell Luter Jr. is doing his job. He’s playing through the whistle and looking for somebody to block.
Ray-Ray McCloud’s communication was excellent. You can see him pointing, and he was likely screaming at Luter Jr. and the rest of the special teams unit to get out of the way. Returners generally yell, “Peter! Peter!” as the code word, so everybody on the return team knows the ball is short, so they run to the sideline.
Hier nochmal die entscheidende Szene im Replay. Der Punt trifft den Fuß von Darrell Luter Jr.. Dadurch muss Returner Ray-Ray McCloud versuchen den Ball aufzunehmen und schafft es nicht. Turnover. pic.twitter.com/Mu8NUCj4Ek https://t.co/6l3W4T3xcP— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) February 12, 2024
McCloud’s decision to pick the ball up and return it instead of falling on it will go down as one of the most critical mistakes of the game. When you watch the clip of the game, the ball bounces straight up and into McCloud’s hands. But he’s unable to gain control. It also came after he deflected it, slowing the ball down.
Falling on the ball takes any uncontrollable bounce. Who knows which way the ball will bounce on its third time? There’s no guarantee, and Ray-Ray found out the hard way that you’d secure the ball off the ground.
Weighing the pros and cons of the potential of an 8-yard return compared to not having the ball in a split second is easier said than done the day after. McCloud has proven to be a playmaker. But this was undoubtedly the most costly play of the game. The 49ers’ win probability went down by 22.3 points after this play. They lost 5.9 points in EPA.
So, in two plays, the 49ers’ win probability went down by 37 points and nearly two touchdowns because of fumbles.