Super Bowl 58

Six things 49ers can learn from Super Bowl LIV loss to Chiefs

The 49ers and Chiefs are facing off four years after their last Super Bowl showdown

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The organizations battling for the NFL’s top prize are the same, as are the head coaches and the uniform colors.

But only 10 of the 44 offensive and defensive players for the two teams will be the same when the 49ers meet the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Feb. 11, in a rematch of Super Bowl LIV.

Again, it will be Kyle Shanahan against Andy Reid in Super Bowl LVIII at the home of the Raiders, Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes won the first of his two Super Bowl MVPs when these teams met in February 2020 in Miami. He is entrenched as the biggest star in the NFL.

The 49ers’ starting quarterback that day, Jimmy Garoppolo, is gone. But the 49ers’ offense is more efficient and explosive with second-year quarterback Brock Purdy distributing the ball to Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.

The 49ers’ defense did not play well in the team’s 34-31 victory over the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship Game, and the unit is a concern entering the organization’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s defense has never been better under the direction of highly respected coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

On that night four years ago in Miami, the 49ers appeared to be well on their way to the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy.

But their 20-10 fourth-quarter lead quickly disappeared. Kansas City scored 21 unanswered points in the final minutes for a 31-20 victory, giving Reid his first Super Bowl title in his 21st season as an NFL head coach.

So while there are many differences, we uncovered a half-dozen lessons the 49ers can learn from their previous Super Bowl experience against Kansas City:

1. Anything it takes to win

The 49ers have used a certain formula to win games this season, but the Super Bowl is a one-shot deal. Shanahan has to stick with what is working on that day.

What worked for the 49ers’ offense in Miami was getting the ball into the hands of their then-rookie wide receiver Samuel.

At that point, Samuel had yet to become the multi-purpose player he is now. Up to the Super Bowl, Samuel carried just 17 times in 17 games during his first season.

Early in the game, Shanahan used Samuel as a runner. And Samuel exploited the Chiefs’ defense on outside runs, gaining 53 yards on three carries.

But instead of sticking with Samuel as the 49ers’ main offensive weapon, his last touch came with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter.

Samuel was running hard and making plays. They should have kept feeding him until Kansas City proved they could slow him down.

It might not be Samuel who is the hot hand this time around, but if the 49ers are having success against one of the league’s top defenses, they need to stick with it.

2. Don’t throw Jones’ way

Chris Jones is the only Chiefs defensive starter remaining from four years ago.

Jones single-handedly wrecked a couple of plays from his spot at defensive tackle. On plays in which Garoppolo appeared to be throwing to open receivers, Jones raised his arm and batted down two critical fourth-quarter pass attempts at the line of scrimmage.

Purdy must find uncluttered throwing lanes on his short passes to get the ball to his playmakers — and out of the way of Jones’ 85-inch wingspan.

3. Be wary of the no-huddle

When Kansas City’s offense needed a spark, Reid decided to speed up the tempo of the game.

Mahomes handled the situation with aplomb to prevent the 49ers from being able to freely substitute on defense. The 49ers’ defense wore down, and Mahomes took full advantage.

The Chiefs were down 20-10 with 8:53 remaining in the game. Mahomes and the Kansas City offense ended up scoring 21 unanswered points en route to the victory after going into hurry-up mode.

Mahomes is at the stage of his career where he can run a more sophisticated version of the no-huddle offense in his sleep, so the 49ers have to be prepared to handle that challenge at any point in the game.

Also, Mahomes drew the 49ers offside on two occasions with hard counts. It is not uncommon for defensive linemen to get jumpy early in big games, so Mahomes could look to pick up some easy penalty yards.

4. Focus on Kelce, not play-action

Kansas City scored on a 1-yard pass to tight end Travis Kelce with 6:13 left in regulation to pull to within 20-17. Kelce was wide open in the end zone after Mahomes’ play-action fake.

Everyone should know that Mahomes will look to get the ball to Kelce at any spot on the field. Those two have combined for more playoff touchdown passes (17) than any duo in NFL history.

Kelce is not a great run-blocker, so there’s no need for the 49ers to pay any attention to that part of his game.

The 49ers cannot allow Kelce to get out in the pattern without multiple sets of eyes on his every move.

5. Attention on holding Bosa

Defensive end Nick Bosa will be the focus of the Chiefs’ pass-blocking efforts. And they will do anything to keep him away from Mahomes.

The 49ers need to draw attention to the possibility — or likelihood — that the Chiefs will stretch the rules in order to prevent Bosa from laying a finger on Mahomes.

Shanahan and others need to constantly be in the ear of referee Bill Vinovich, who coincidentally was the referee four years ago when the two teams met in the Super Bowl.

In that game, Kansas City left tackle Eric Fisher hooked Bosa with his right arm and guided him away from Mahomes to allow for enough time for “wasp” to develop — the 44-yard pass to Tyreek Hill on a game-changing third-and-15 play midway through the fourth quarter.

6. Extra points, not field goals

Mahomes already had shown plenty of star quality the previous season when he threw 50 touchdown passes and was the NFL’s MVP.

Now, he is firmly established as a big-game quarterback in the same class as Joe Montana and Tom Brady.

That means the 49ers have to take advantage of every offensive opportunity to apply more pressure to the Kansas City offense.

Four years ago, the 49ers settled for two field goals on four trips deep into Kansas City territory. Robbie Gould made field goals of 38 and 42 yards, meaning the 49ers had opportunities to score eight more points through 2 1/2 quarters.

Kansas City has an experienced, big-game kicker in Harrison Butker. The 49ers have rookie Jake Moody.

If the 49ers are going to win this game, they need to send Moody out onto the field for extra points — and avoid the chance of this game coming down to one final kick.

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