49ers Observations

What we learned in 49ers' heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to Chiefs

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LAS VEGAS — Another Super Bowl opportunity on Sunday supplied 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan with only another crushing defeat.

If not now . . . when?

That has to be the question surrounding the 49ers, who were built to win and were set up perfectly to achieve the organization’s sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy this season.

But the mighty Kansas City Chiefs of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, once again, came through when it mattered most with a 25-22 overtime victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium.

It was the second overtime game in Super Bowl history, and the second time Shanahan was on the losing side.

After the 49ers took a three-point lead on rookie kicker Jake Moody’s 27-yard field goal to open overtime, Mahomes took over to lead the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

Mahomes completed 34 of 46 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He won the game with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman after 14 minutes, 57 seconds of overtime.

He got the Chiefs into position for the win with his running, too. He gained a team-high 66 yards on nine rushing attempts.

The 49ers’ Super Bowl drought now reaches a 30th season. The 49ers must once again pick up the pieces and restart in the offseason program, with the daunting goal of finding a way to get back to this game a year from now in New Orleans.

Shanahan, 44, last week admitted it was heartbreaking to lose previous Super Bowls. In themselves, the losses were difficult. But both previous times, his teams squandered large second-half leads.

Shanahan, long regarded as one of the top coaches in the NFL, might have been under the most pressure of anyone associated with Super Bowl LVIII to win the game.

There are sure to be whispers — or shouts, even — that Shanahan is incapable of winning the big one.

Shanahan had his agreement already in place to become coach of the 49ers when, as offensive coordinator, the Dan Quinn-coached Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Just three years later, the 49ers were up on Kansas City, 20-10, before giving up 21 unanswered points in the final seven minutes of the game of Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

The 49ers began their Super Bowl history with four wins with Joe Montana at quarterback: Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII and XXIV. Five years later, Steve Young helped the 49ers stack their fifth Lombardi Trophy, throwing six touchdown passes in a rout of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX.

Those five Super Bowl titles happened in the first 29 Super Bowls. In the 29 years that have followed, the 49ers have now appeared in three Super Bowls — all losses.

Purdy steady in losing effort

Quarterback Brock Purdy had a chance to join the most elite company in franchise history.

But where Montana and Young succeeded, every 49ers quarterback who has followed has not been able to deliver a Super Bowl title over the past three decades.

Purdy, 24, figures to have more chances . . . but you never know. He was the third-youngest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl at 24 years, one month, 15 days. Only Miami’s Dan Marino and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger were younger.

Purdy completed 23 of 38 pass attempts for 255 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Running back Christian McCaffrey supplied most of the offense for the 49ers with 80 yards rushing on 22 carries and 80 yards receiving on eight receptions.

Purdy was one of the more unlikely quarterbacks in Super Bowl history. On the other side was Mahomes, the best quarterback of this generation, appearing in his fourth Super Bowl in the past five seasons. Kansas City is now 3-1 in the title games with Mahomes.

Because Purdy is scheduled to count approximately $1 million on the salary cap next season, 49ers general manager John Lynch will have the opportunity to keep much of the team’s roster together for another try next season.

The 49ers’ top players scheduled for unrestricted free agency are Javon Kinlaw, Tashaun Gipson, Clelin Ferrell, Ray-Ray McCloud, Charlie Woerner and Jon Feliciano. The 49ers are not likely to retain defensive end Chase Young, whom they acquired in a midseason trade.

The big order of the offseason is to work out a contract extension for wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who is scheduled to enter the final year of his original five-year contract.

Momentum turns on special teams

The 49ers forced a Kansas City punt after another strong defensive series.

However, they had to turn around quickly when the 49ers turned it over on special teams.

Return man Ray-Ray McCloud tried to get his teammates to get clear from Tommy Townsend’s short punt. However, the ball struck the foot of 49ers rookie Darrell Luter.

McCloud tried unsuccessfully to pick the ball up, and it got away from him. Kansas City’s Jaylen Watson recovered the loose ball for the game-changing moment.

The Chiefs immediately cashed it in with Mahomes’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

The turnover-touchdown sequence supplied the Chiefs with their first lead of the game, 13-10, late in the third quarter.

The 49ers had another breakdown on special teams later, when Moody’s kick on an extra point was low and blocked.

That failed opportunity for one point after Jauan Jennings’ touchdown catch kept the 49ers’ lead at three points, 16-13, and enabled the Chiefs to kick a field goal to tie it up with 5:46 remaining in regulation.

Greenlaw’s freak injury devastating

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw got off to a great start on Sunday with three tackles in the first quarter.

Then, his day came to an end with an injury that the team fears is a torn left Achilles.

Greenlaw was bouncing up and down on the sideline after the team’s punt coverage unit made a good play. And when Greenlaw sprung to enter the playing field, his left leg gave out and he went to the ground.

Greenlaw was in obvious pain and appeared devastated when he got onto a cart to be taken back to the 49ers’ locker room for observation.

The 49ers turned to Oren Burks and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles for increased roles on defense while Greenlaw was unavailable for the remainder of the game.

Now, the 49ers likely will have to cover themselves in the offseason to account for the possibility Greenlaw does not make a swift recovery from his expected surgery.

The team expects to have a better idea of how long it will take Greenlaw to get back on the field after he undergoes imaging on the injury.

Greenlaw and All-Pro Fred Warner formed the top pair of linebackers in the NFL this season. Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce was targeted just once in the first half of the game and had one reception for 1 yard with Greenlaw making the tackle. Kelce finished the game with nine catches on 10 targets for 93 yards.

Greenlaw was a late scratch from the 49ers’ final regular-season game due to Achilles tendinitis, and he was limited in practice for most of the days leading up to the 49ers’ divisional-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

It is not known whether Greenlaw previously was bothered by the same Achilles he ended up injuring during the Super Bowl.

Jennings goes old school

Before Jauan Jennings was an NFL prospect as a wide receiver, he was a highly recruited quarterback from Blackman High in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

He showed both skills on Super Bowl Sunday.

Obviously, Shanahan knew all about Jennings’ past and was waiting for the right time to unveil his first professional pass.

Jennings had not made any passing attempts in his first 53 NFL games, including the postseason. But Shanahan determined the time was right with 4:32 remaining in the first half.

Jennings caught a backward pass from Purdy on the left side. He took two steps backward and threw a pass back to the left for McCaffrey, who had a convoy of blockers lined up.

McCaffrey darted up the field — with 28 yards of run after the catch — to get into the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown pass. The play gave the 49ers a 10-0 lead, and prompted a pump of the fist from Shanahan, who dialed up the trick play.

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