LAS VEGAS — Nobody has more at stake in Super Bowl LVIII than 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
He has long been regarded as one of the top offensive minds of this generation. The only thing he is missing is the jewelry that comes along with being the best in the NFL.
This is Shanahan's third trip to the Super Bowl, and the first two ended in agonizing fashion after his team blew sizable second-half leads. His devastating losses came as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons and four years ago in his current role.
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One game can forever change perceptions.
With a win, Shanahan will potentially move forward on the track toward a Hall of Fame career.
A loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs certainly will provide plenty of material for the social media trolls.
But the man in charge of the organization is keeping the outcome of this one game in perspective.
San Francisco 49ers
“I love Kyle,” 49ers CEO Jed York said. “I would be hard for me to say I enjoy working with anybody more than I enjoy working with Kyle. I think Kyle is a phenomenal coach. I think he’s done a phenomenal job with our club.
“I don’t really care what the outside perception is. It is very, very difficult to make the playoffs. It’s very difficult to get to a championship game. It’s very difficult to win a championship game. It’s more difficult to get to this game. Kyle’s results more than speak for themselves.”
The 49ers implemented their game plan more than a week ago, and several players have spoken about how excited they are to bring life to Shanahan’s offensive ideas against a tough Kansas City defense.
Here are five 49ers stars whose performances will help determine whether the 49ers can bring home the organization’s sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy:
5, WR Deebo Samuel
The 49ers will go against L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, who generally are regarded as the best cornerback tandem in the NFL.
It is the biggest challenge of the season for wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
But even if Samuel is finding difficulty in getting open against man coverage, he still can make a huge impact on this game.
The 49ers will have a list of plays in which Samuel will be pre-determined to get the football in his hands — either on jet sweeps or screen passes.
And Samuel figures to be running harder than ever on Super Bowl Sunday.
“Any time he touches the ball, he can take it to the crib,” 49ers left tackle Trent Williams said.
Samuel’s physicality as a runner could set the tone for the day on the 49ers’ first possession of the game as they look to establish themselves as the more physical of the two teams.
4, LB Fred Warner
When these teams met in Super Bowl LIV, linebacker Fred Warner collected an interception against Chief quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
This game could come down to a takeaway, and Warner will be ready to pounce.
Warner, and sidekick Dre Greenlaw, have the most difficult assignments of anyone on the 49ers in this game. Not only do they have to shore up the second level against hard-charging running back Isaiah Pacheco, but they will be asked to contain tight end Travis Kelce.
Mahomes and Kelce have combined for more postseason touchdowns than any pair in NFL history. Kelce has a way of finding openings against zone defenses, and Mahomes is nearly automatic when it comes to finding him.
Warner, a three-time All-Pro performer, will have to work closely with Greenlaw to make sure Kelce does not regularly shake free for big gains.
3, RB Christian McCaffrey
One area the 49ers might be able to attack is the Kansas City run defense.
In three postseason games, the Chiefs are allowing an average of 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.
Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could place an eighth defender in the box in an effort to neutralize McCaffrey, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
But the 49ers do not figure to beat their heads against the wall if they constantly are outnumbered on running plays and McCaffrey has no room to operate.
But that’s OK, too.
McCaffrey is not only the best runner in the NFL, he is the best dual-threat back, too.
The 49ers have enough versatility on offense to use empty backfields from their base personnel in order to spread out Kansas City’s defense.
Then, they still can get the ball into McCaffrey’s hands in the passing game. And when McCaffrey is working in space, it will be difficult for the Chiefs to keep him bottled up.
2, DE Nick Bosa
A year ago, Nick Bosa was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
While he did not finish in the top 10 in the recent voting, this game could separate him from all the others who piled up better stats during the regular season.
Bosa will be going up against Kansas City left tackle Donovan Smith and right tackle Jawaan Taylor. Those two combined for 15 holding penalties — a nugget Bosa was quick to expose and, perhaps, try to influence referee Bill Vinovich.
“They hold a lot,” Bosa answered when asked for a scouting report of Smith and Taylor.
Bosa will be the focus of Kansas City’s protection plan. He will see a steady diet of double-teams, which is nothing new to him. And while that should open the door for Chase Young to win his one-on-one matchups on the other side, Bosa might very well have to do it himself.
And he is more than capable of single-handedly making Mahomes uncomfortable.
1, QB Brock Purdy
It is difficult to find a better story over the past two seasons than Brock Purdy.
The final overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft became the starter last season due to injuries. Then, he sustained a significant elbow injury in the NFC Championship game.
He admits he was not close to 100 percent when the season started, but that did not prevent him from getting off to a hot start, leading the 49ers to the top seed in the NFC and finishing fourth in the MVP voting.
Now, he is the 49ers’ starting quarterback in the Super Bowl.
He was up and down in both playoff games but led inspiring comeback victories over Green Bay and Detroit to get to this point.
“He’s had a hell of a week,” Shanahan said of Purdy’s work in practice leading up to this game. “Brock’s pumped up.”
Purdy’s first career start last season came against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so he did not exactly ease into the action once he took over.
Now, he and his teammates will be matched against Mahomes, a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
Purdy, 24, has mostly shown poise and precision since becoming the starter. But this is a situation unlike anything he has ever faced.
He must recognize before the snap from where Kansas City is bringing pressure. Then, he has to deliver the ball on time and accurately to set up his playmakers for yards after the catch.
If the running game is clicking, Purdy will have an opportunity to use play-action passes on early downs to get the ball deep against single coverage.
If Purdy can do all that -- in other words, do what he's regularly done since entering the starting lineup -- the 49ers should break their 29-year Super Bowl drought.
Then, Purdy, Shanahan and all the other players and coaches will create new legacies for the current generation of 49ers.