10 reasons why 49ers fell to Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII

10 reasons why 49ers fell to Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

A week later, it remains as obvious as ever that this is never going away.

The 49ers were crushed on Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas.

And they remain crushed.

There was not just one reason the 49ers lost 25-22 to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime of Super Bowl LVIII. It was not just one play, one decision or one theme that can be singled out. It was a lot of things, beginning (and ending) with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes being the best player on the field.

Maybe because there is no easily identifiable reason for the 49ers’ loss, it makes it more confusing and confounding for everyone associated with the team to accept.

Ultimately, there were a lot of reasons. And here are 10 plays and talking points, ranked in order of significance, from the 49ers’ devastating season-ending defeat:

1, Fourth-and-1 in OT

Why is this play No. 1?

It’s simple: If the 49ers had stopped Kansas City on downs in overtime, the game would have been over.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes figured to keep the ball in his hands on fourth down, so the 49ers should have made it more difficult for him to pick up those 8 yards with his legs around the right tackle.

Even if it meant sacrificing something in coverage to assign someone to be a spy on him, that would have been the better option. At least, it would have required Kansas City to complete a high-pressure pass. The Chiefs had more dropped passes this season than any team in the NFL, so the 49ers should have forced them to make a play rather than not even challenge Mahomes with the ball in his hands.

The 49ers’ defense got slower the longer the drive lasted and offered very little resistance the rest of the way en route to the Chiefs scoring the game-winning touchdown.

2, Third-and-5 in 4th quarter

Maybe there were signs pre-snap that cornerback Trent McDuffie was coming on a blitz. Maybe tight end George Kittle, lined up in the backfield, could have recognized it and slid to his left in pass protection. Maybe Brock Purdy could’ve delivered a quicker pass to Brandon Aiyuk.

There are a lot of maybes, but if the 49ers had converted that first down, they might have been able to run out most of the clock in regulation to set up Jake Moody for what could’ve been a walk-off field goal attempt and a possible 22-19 victory.

But after McDuffie broke up the pass, Moody’s 53-yard field goal came with 1:53 remaining, allowing Mahomes and Co. plenty of time to drive for the tying points to force overtime.

3, Muffed punt

Kansas City mustered only one touchdown in regulation, and that came on a one-play, 16-yard “drive.”

The 49ers committed a turnover when Tommy Townsend’s short punt hit the leg of 49ers blocker Darrell Luter. Return man Ray-Ray McCloud called for Luter to get away from the ball, but Luter apparently did not hear him.

Then, when the ball was live, McCloud tried to scoop it up and stay on his feet instead of falling on it and doing everything possible to secure possession.

The Chiefs recovered at the 16-yard line, and Mahomes made the 49ers pay with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the next play. That touchdown gave Kansas City its first lead of the game, 13-10, with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

4, Missed PAT

Purdy teamed up with determined wide receiver Jauan Jennings on a 10-yard scoring pass with 11:22 remaining in regulation for the 49ers to regain the lead.

However, Moody’s extra-point attempt appeared to be low, and Leo Chenal stuck a hand up to block it. So instead of the 49ers going up by four points, they held just a three-point lead.

Of course, we don’t know how it would have turned out. Kansas City might not have settled for a field goal on the next drive, and they certainly would not have kicked a field goal late in regulation to pull to within one point with :03 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The blocked extra point was the reason the rest of the game played out the way it did and ended up in overtime.

5, McCaffrey fumble

The 49ers had a chance to establish control on their first drive of the game. The 49ers moved the ball 46 yards on the first four plays of the game and had a first down at the Kansas City 29-yard line.

They were already in field-goal range. And in a game in which points did not come easily, a touchdown would have been significant.

But on a first-and-10 play, Chenal forced a fumble of McCaffrey and Kansas City’s George Karlaftis recovered it. The 49ers’ offense never again made it look as easy as they did during that four-play sequence to open the game.

After a scoreless first quarter, the 49ers finally broke through with Moody’s 55-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

6, Third-and-4 in OT

The 49ers had the right play call on a critical third-down play in overtime. But right guard Spencer Burford, playing in place of injured starter Jon Feliciano, inexplicably blocked the wrong person and left Kansas City star defensive tackle Chris Jones a free run at Purdy.

Purdy, with Jones in his face, threw high and wide of Jennings on the right side. If the play had been blocked up as designed, Purdy could have hit Jennings for the first down or, perhaps, Aiyuk in the end zone for a potential 9-yard touchdown.

As it was, Moody made a 27-yard field goal and the 49ers could not protect the three-point lead against Mahomes on the next series.

7, Greenlaw injury

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw sustained a freak injury in the second quarter when he tore his left Achilles tendon as he sprung forward off the sideline to take the field.

Up to that point, Greenlaw was all over the place early in the game. The injury could rank higher on this list of reasons the 49ers lost the game, but we will never know.

Greenlaw was involved in the tackle of Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce on a first-quarter reception that gained just 1 yard. That was Kelce’s only catch in the first half. He finished with game-highs of nine catches for 93 yards.

8, Decision at start of OT

Coach Kyle Shanahan’s decision to take the ball to open overtime was a logical decision, especially when accounting for the fact the defense was exhausted from an 11-play drive at the end of regulation that resulted in the tying field goal.

But it also made things easier on Kansas City coach Andy Reid to go for it on fourth and 1 from their own 34 (see Reason No. 1). However, there is also a chance the Chiefs would not have even been in a fourth-and-1 situation to open overtime against a tired 49ers defense.

The longer the drive lasted, the easier things got for Mahomes and Co.

The 49ers’ analytics team concluded it made more sense to take the football because of the advantage gained from the third possession. After the teams have one possession apiece, the game kicks into sudden-death mode.

The downside of taking the ball first is that the Chiefs knew exactly what needed to be done when they took over. The fact the 49ers opened OT with a field goal meant Kansas City knew it had four offensive plays to keep the chains moving.

9, Three and outs

The 49ers attempted two passes and one run on their three first-and-10 situations to open the second half. That does not seem too bizarre, considering they had more success throwing on first down in the first 30 minutes of the game.

When the 49ers threw on first down, it prevented Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo from deploying any exotic pressure packages on those plays. That’s why the 49ers wanted to be balanced on first down.

Should the 49ers have run the ball on their first three possessions of the second half? Perhaps, but the Chiefs were stacking the box on run-downs, and the 49ers were not having much consistent success on the ground, either.

The 49ers’ two first-down pass plays resulted in an incompletion and an 8-yard loss on a throw to Jennings. On the 49ers’ third possession, McCaffrey was stopped for no gain on a first-down running play.

The 49ers had third-and-long situations with 15, 11 and 10 yards to gain to open the third quarter.

Up by seven points, 10-3, at halftime the 49ers did not take advantage of a Ji’Ayir Brown interception and a Kansas City three-and-out to extend their lead.

10, Not knowing OT rules

The fact some 49ers players admitted to not knowing the rules at the beginning of overtime was embarrassing more than anything.

But it had zero impact on the result of the game.

When the 49ers’ offense took over to open overtime, their goal was to score a touchdown. When they failed on third down (see No. 6), they settled for the go-ahead field goal.

And when the 49ers’ defense took the field, their goal was to keep Kansas City out of the end zone. When they failed, they lost the game.

The 49ers’ failure to address the rules for postseason overtime games was just another talking point from a game that will always be a source of emotional pain and second-guessing for 49ers players, coaches and fans.

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