Up 20-10 with less than seven minutes left in Super Bowl LIV, the San Francisco 49ers were in great shape to win their sixth Super Bowl as a franchise. But, as Patrick Mahomes has done the entire postseason, he refused to walk off that field without hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs rattled off 21 straight fourth-quarter points to knock off the 49ers by a final of 31-20.
The heartbreak is a familiar feeling for San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan. He was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons when the Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit against his former team just three years ago. “We had an opportunity to win that, and we came up short,” said Shanahan after the game. “But win or lose, today doesn’t change how I feel about our team.” After a 13-3 season, there is still plenty to feel good about. Nevertheless, falling short in the season finale on the biggest stage will always be at least a little deflating.
In the two rounds before the Super Bowl, Kansas City trailed by scores of 24-0 and 17-7, respectively, but with plenty of time to come back. This time, they had just half a quarter to pull things off once again. Mahomes, who would be named Super Bowl MVP, sparked the comeback on a seemingly impossible 3rd and 15 play.
That’s a third and 15 that may haunt this 49ers team for a long, long time. They are a team that prides themselves on defense, boasting the second-best defensive unit in football throughout the regular season. The phrase “defense wins championships” can be tossed out the window if met with elite offensive play, and that’s exactly what the Chiefs brought in the final stages of this game.
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Kansas City brought some top-tier defense of their own in the fourth, however. San Francisco ran the ball just five times and was unable to close out the game and keep Mahomes off the field. The 49ers totaled 141 yards on the ground, their lowest mark of the postseason. The Chiefs forced Jimmy Garoppolo to be the one to beat them, and he was unable to do so. He was just 3-11 through the air in the final frame and tossed an interception on the 49ers final drive to Kendall Fuller to seal his team’s fate.
Jimmy finished his day with a 20-31 passing effort, totaling 210 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. A near-perfect ball to George Kittle could have had the 49ers in front going into the halftime break, but an offensive pass interference call erased the big gain.
“I’ve gotta live with it. It is what it is,” Kittle said about the play following the loss.
Garappolo did have an opportunity to find Emmanuel Sanders for a potential game-winning score with under two minutes to play, however, he overshot Sanders big time.
Those are the throws that make a difference between celebrating in confetti and walking through it in defeat.
Ground Game Not Enough
San Francisco’s run game was good early, but as mentioned, they were unable to finish off the game late. Following a historic NFC Championship game, Raheem Mostert tallied just 58 yards on the ground along with one touchdown. Deebo Samuel used his speed to get to the outside on a couple of jet sweeps and racked up 53 rushing yards of his own. Tevin Coleman also scampered for 28 yards. Still, credit the Chiefs defense for being able to make San Francisco one-dimensional towards the end of the game and not allow their offensive line to close things out.
Turning the Tide
Defensively, the game started about as perfect as it could have for San Francisco. They forced a quick three-and-out for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense on their first possession. KC would find the end zone on their next drive but would score just 10 points in the first half. The Chiefs outscored opponents 57-6 in the second quarter of games this year. Allowing only three was a win for the 49ers. Unfortunately for Robert Saleh’s unit, however, Mahomes would find the magic just two quarters later.
Mahomes threw both of his passing touchdowns in the fourth quarter, finishing 26-42 with 268 yards, two interceptions, and a rushing touchdown. Damien Williams capped the game with a 38-yard rushing touchdown and finished with 104 total yards on the ground. Williams had just 92 total yards on the ground throughout the entire playoffs before this game.
As mentioned, the 49ers defense did an excellent job initially with Mahomes forcing him to throw two interceptions. Fred Warner picked him off early in the game, and Tarvarious Moore started the fourth quarter with a pick of his own.
San Francisco had an opportunity to close things out following the Moore interception but failed to do so. “As on offense, we have to end the game right there,” George Kittle said after the game. “And we didn’t.”
Allowing 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter will get you beat in most football games, and that’s precisely what happened here. Despite the loss, Shanahan is confident his team will be ready to go next season.
“We’ll lick our wounds, we’ll get over this, we’ll be fired up for next year,” the head coach said after the game. “I think we surprised a lot of people this year.” The hunt for a sixth Lombardi Trophy for the Bay Area will have to wait at least one more season.