Super Bowl LVIII - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

A gut-wrenching loss

The San Francisco 49ers’ opening drive looked promising. Kyle Juszczyk caught an 18-yard pass, and Christian McCaffrey had successive touches for 11 yards.

But his third touch in a row proved costly, as McCaffrey fumbled for the first time in 3.5 months. So, instead of an opening drive touchdown or field goal, the 49ers offense stalled on the 29.

Defensively, they did not disappoint. Dre Greenlaw looked like a man possessed. The defense had a tackle for loss on first down, then shut down a screen to Travis Kelce on second down. One of the most significant issues on this side of the ball during the playoffs was struggling on early downs. A promising start forced a 3rd & 12, and the Niners got off the field.

Brandon Aiyuk caught an 18-yard pass to start the next drive. But a false start and a holding penalty on Trent Williams stopped the drive before it started, and it was 3rd & 19 before you knew it. Mitch Wishnowsky boomed a punt 54 yards, pinning Kansas City at their 11-yard line.

The defense came to play. They gave up ten yards on the first play but forced a negative gain and no gain on the following two plays. Chase Young had a sack, and Randy Gregory chased down Patrick Mahomes on third down.

Through two drives, the 49ers defensive line was dominating.

The 49ers moved the ball into Chiefs territory once again, but it wasn’t because of their usual suspects. Chris Conley and Ray-Ray McCloud had receptions of 18 and 19 yards, respectively. But a carry by McCaffrey lost four yards, and it was 3rd & 14 from the 37-yard line.

Purdy took a shot down the field to Deebo, but Trent McDuffie had perfect coverage:

It was a great football play all around.

Jake Moody nailed the longest kick in Super Bowl history, as his 55-yarder put the Niners on the board with the lead, 3-0.

On the ensuing possession, Rashee Rice fumbled on 3rd & 1, but the ball bounced into the hands of Justin Watson. It was the type of fumble luck that most teams have had against the Niners this season.

On the following play, the Chiefs drew up a play-action shot. Tashaun Gipson appeared to lose the ball in the lights, as he had a beat on the ball and a clear path to the interception. Instead, Mecole Hardman caught a pass for 52 yards.

The Football gods weren’t going to reward the Chiefs, as Deommodore Lenoir forced a fumble on Pacheco, and the Niners’ defense got off the field.

Punts ruled the first half. At one point, there were more fumbles (4) than points (3). After trading punts, the 49ers did what they couldn’t do on their first four drives: Reach the end zone. Aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty, Jauan Jennings, yes, Jauan Jennings, threw a pass to Christian McCaffrey across the field, who raced untouched into the end zone for 21 yards:

Jennings deserves a ton of credit. He looks down the field, holds the coverage, allows the blockers to get over to McCaffrey, and that’s how that long-developing play worked to perfection.

Kansas City answered with their own drive because that’s what Mahomes does. On 3rd & 9, Fred Warner was flagged for a holding. It didn’t matter, as Watson was open 21 yards down the field.

So, instead of a chance to get off the field and get the ball back with three timeouts, the drive stayed alive, and the Chiefs were guaranteed to get points, barring another turnover. But the defensive line continued to be a force. Nick Bosa made a stop on first down. Javon Kinlaw on second down, then Armstead sacked Mahomes on third down. That unit was the best in the game through a half.

The Niners’ defense forced a turnover to begin the third quarter. Ji’Ayir Brown made a terrific read and intercepted Mahomes. It felt like that would be the play that would seal the game for the 49ers.

Instead, it was the inverse in the third quarter for the Niners than the one they experienced in the NFC Championship game.

Kyle Shanahan failed to run the ball on the next two possessions, and the Niners went three-and-out. The defense held the Chiefs to three points while forcing two punts. They did everything possible to keep the Chiefs from scoring.

After the Niners’ defense came up with a critical stop, the punt by Mitch Wishnowsky hit rookie Darrell Luter in the foot. Ray-Ray McCloud tried to communicate and tell everybody to get away but to no avail.

Instead of pouncing on the ball, McCloud elected to scoop the ball. That turned out to be a disastrous decision.

The offense needed an answer, like a human being needs air. Brandon Aiyuk caught a 20-yard pass to begin the drive. After a tackle for loss on 3rd & 2, Kyle Shanahan made up for his sins after failing to run the ball on the previous drives.

Instead of electing to tie the game, Shanahan went for it on 4th & 3. George Kittle hadn’t caught a pass all night. He did on this play, and the Niners stayed on the field. Then, Jauan Jennings was wide open in the end zone to give the 49ers a 16-13 lead.

But Jake Moody missed an extra point at the worst possible time. Well, he didn’t miss it. The kick was blocked. A low-trajectory kick didn’t make it over the didn’t make it over the defensive lineman. So, instead of needing a touchdown to win, the Chiefs needed a field goal.

We’ve seen this movie many times before.

Mahomes found Kelce wide open on 3rd & 10 after Logan Ryan failed to line up on time. On 2nd & 10, Watson was wide open for 25 yards. The Chiefs had 1st & goal from the 4-yard line.

It felt inevitable that they would score. But, as they did all season, the Chiefs settled for a field goal.

Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead got the stop on first down. After forcing Mahomes to run around in the pocket, Flannigan-Fowles tipped the pass intended for Rashee Rice, forcing an incompletion.

Finally, Ji’Ayir Brown jumped into the throwing lane on third down, flushing Mahomes from the pocket, and Hargrave picked up the sack. It was an incredible series of events that ended in three points.

The 49ers had the ball with just under six minutes remaining. Jennings picked up a critical first down to begin the drive, instantly taking pressure off Purdy with a 23-yard gain. Deebo looked like he would break a long run, but it ended up going for nine yards. On 3rd & 5, Spags drew up a beautiful pressure with a free rusher in Purdy’s face. That led to a tipped pass and a Jake Moody field goal.

Moody’s kick from 53 yards was good to give San Francisco a 19-16 lead.

Wilks waited until the Chiefs picked up multiple first downs to play press coverage. So, with 39 seconds, the Chiefs had a 1st & 10. After Kelce beat Fred Warner for 22 yards on 3rd & 7, Warner broke up Kelce’s back-shoulder attempt. Harrison Butker’s kick was good, and we headed into overtime.

The 49ers received the ball to begin overtime. Their defense was gassed, and the offense had been their best unit all season. Still, you have to execute.

Purdy’s first down pass was nearly intercepted after he was late over the middle to Deebo. Then, Brandon Aiyuk committed a false start on second down. A curious 2nd & 15 screen call did not work. Then, on 3rd & 15, the ball slipped out of Purdy’s hands.

But the Niners received the call of a lifetime. Kansas City was flagged for a defensive holding penalty, giving the 49ers fresh downs.

Aiyuk had a favorable matchup on 3rd down against the Chiefs’ free safety. McCaffrey, 1-on-1, did what he always did and made a defender miss for an enormous catch and run. Both of these plays happened with George Kittle on the sideline.

Then, on 2nd & 12, Purdy scrambled and found Kyle Juszczyk after buying time with his legs. So, the offense picked up a first down and welcomed Kittle back into the game.

It would come down to yet another 3rd down, with four yards needed to pick up the first. The design was there, but there was just enough pressure to fluster Purdy, who couldn’t hit Jennings. Had he been able to, Jennings would have walked into the end zone.

Moody made the kick, and it’d come down to the 49ers defense getting off the field. This is why you go get a Hargrave. This is why you give Armstead an extension and make Bosa the highest-paid edge rusher.

Brown and Lenoir returned to the lineup, so San Francisco was at full strength to start the drive. Sure enough, Hargrave and Bosa made plays on the first and third downs. The Super Bowl would come down to 4th & 1. Kansas City had the perfect play call, allowing Mahomes to get to the edge and pick up the first down.

The defense gave up a 3rd & 6, where Rice beat Lenoir across the middle for a gain of 13. This came after the Niners had a 2nd & 14. Mahomes would scramble for another first down. This time, putting Kansas City on the 13. From the three-yard line, Mahomes found Hardman for the game-winning touchdown.

Once again, the 49ers came up short. Needing a touchdown on offense, they settled for a field goal. Needing a stop on defense, they couldn’t get off the field.

It was the story of the game and a crushing loss for Shanahan and the 49ers.

Mahomes does it again.

Final, 25-22.

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