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All the Thoughts: Super Bowl LVIII, 49ers Defeat

By Adam S. '25

Las Vegas – Chiefs 25, 49ers 22. Final from Las Vegas, Sin City, on Sunday night. For the Chiefs, this win cements their status as the modern-day football dynasty. Mahomes adds to his historic legacy another Super Bowl victory, winning his third Lombardi trophy in six seasons. In all three of Mahomes’ Super Bowl wins he trailed by 10+ points at one point in the game. In all three he came out victorious. For the 49ers, and Faithful fans throughout the Bay Area, it’s the latest of a devastating series of postseason losses which extends San Francisco’s Super Bowl drought to 29 years. There was the Kyle Williams fumbles in 2011 against the Giants in NFC Championship Game, the overthrow of Crabtree in Super Bowl 47 (he was held on that play as well), the Sherman interception in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, the Garoppolo overthrow of Emmanuel Sanders in Super Bowl 53, the Jacquiski Tartt dropped interception in 2021 (a play which freshman me saw live, in Los Angeles), the quarterback injuries which quelled our 2022 Super Bowl dreams, and now this loss. For 17 years I’ve bled red and gold, and spent hours watching my heroes play on Sunday. This loss will sting for a long time, and it hurts knowing that this group of guys won’t all share a field together again, and that this core – Shanahan, Purdy, Kittle, Aiyuk, Deebo, Trent, Warner, Greenlaw, Bosa, Armstead – may never get another opportunity to reach the mountaintop.

BUT, alas, what a football game it was. Here are all my thoughts from Super Bowl LVIII:

Missed Opportunities for 49ers through First 3 Quarters Prove Costly

The 49ers came out hot and ready to play. Early on, the 49ers lined up in tight formation almost every play, looking to gash the Chiefs down the middle of the field. It worked. On the first drive, the 49ers averaged over 11 yards per snap on 4 plays. McCaffrey rushed 3 times for 28 yards. However, on the 5th play of the drive McCaffrey was stuffed running to his right, and had the ball wrestled loose by Chiefs LB Leo Chenal. A huge scoring opportunity missed.

On their second drive, the 49ers started where they left off, as Purdy delivered a strike to Brandon Aiyuk over the middle for 18 yards. However, penalties by Trent Williams, a false start and a hold – the latter of which took away an 18 yard off-schedule pass to George Kittle – left the 49ers looking at 2nd & 27 and eventually forced a punt. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 0-0, with the 49ers, who had outgained the Chiefs 84-16, without the lead they deserved. 

The second quarter was much of the same. Steve Wilks and the 49ers’ defensive front were hitting on all cylinders schematically. Bosa and Armstead worked to hold the edge, containing Mahomes inside the pocket and taking away off-schedule plays. Additionally, the defense made big plays, with Deommodore Lenoir stripping Isiah Pacheco at the 9-yard-line in order to force a red zone turnover and keep the Chiefs scoreless. Nevertheless, despite seemingly dominating the first half, the 49ers entered halftime up just 10-3. 

In the third quarter, these trends continued. The 49ers came out of halftime and continued their defensive momentum, as Patrick Mahomes threw a rare playoff interception to rookie safety J’Ayir Brown, overthrowing Travis Kelce on a deep post. This was a critical point in the game, and a chance for the 49ers to take a two possession lead. Yet, the 49ers would go 3 and out on 3 consecutive possessions, failing to capitalize on their opportunities to ice the game.

The 49ers clung to a 10-6 lead until late in the quarter when a Tommy Townsend punt landed on the heel of gunner Darrell Luter Jr., who failed to evade the short kick. Rae-Rae McCloud tried to scoop the ball and avoid a turnover, but the ball slipped through his hands and the Chiefs recovered on the 49ers 16-yard-line. The next play Mahomes would connect with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a touchdown to put the Chiefs up 13-10. All the missed opportunities piled up and the Chiefs held a lead entering the final 15, despite being outplayed for much of the opening 3 quarters. 

Defensive Gems

I don’t want to hear any Steve Wilks hate for a long time. Despite sub-par performances in his first two playoff games with the 49ers, Wilks was ready to go on Sunday, and schemed up a beauty for most of Super Bowl 58. The defense on both sides of the football was extremely high quality, and was part of what made this game, for the non-casual football fan, so exciting. Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead were excellent, and extremely disciplined throughout most of the game on the left side of the line, keeping Mahomes in the pocket and limiting his ability to manufacture off-schedule throws. And the 4-man pass rush was back after stalling in the first two games of the playoffs! Through the first three quarters, the 49ers generated pressure on 46% of snaps, rushing just 4 every time. The 49ers defense was also prepared to stop the run, limiting Isiah Pacheco to just 3.3 yards per carry. This too, was a major change from divisional and conference round games against the Packers and Lions. 

Both teams forced multiple turnovers and came up with big red zone stops on their heels. The Chiefs secondary was fantastic, specifically Trent McDuffie, who locked up Deebo Samuel for the majority of the game. Chris Jones, the Chiefs’ premier All-Pro defensive tackle, was also fantastic, and made a huge play to spoil a 49ers overtime touchdown on a 3rd & 3 play late in the game. And, of course, at the end of the game, it was Spagnuolo’s blitzes which won the Chiefs the game…

Spagnuolo’s Cover 1 Wins Late

We knew that it was coming – Spagnuolo was going to bring ‘the house’ and dial up creative pressure packages on Purdy.

The big blitzes came on 3rd & 4 on the 49ers’ final drive of regulation and on 3rd & 3 on the 49ers’ drive in overtime.

On the first blitz, Spags brought four lineman and two defensive backs. The 49ers had four players running routes, with Rae-Rae McCloud running a clear to open up room for McCaffrey on the right, while Aiyuk and Jennings both ran inward slants on the left side. The key part of this blitz was bringing cornerback Trent McDuffie, who was marked on Brandon Aiyuk. Purdy, checking formation on the right part of the field, saw McDuffie backing up, believed him to not be coming, and then turned his head to the left. McDuffie then crept back up towards the line of scrimmage, and timed his blitz perfectly, catching Purdy and the 49ers completely off-guard. This is the beauty of Spags’ blitzes. They are disguised well, and constantly come from different places. Although Aiyuk broke wide-open with McDuffie no longer guarding him, Purdy did not have time to recognize what was going on and rushed an errant pass to Jennings.

On the second blitz, Spags brought four lineman, linebacker Nick Bolton, and safety Justin Reid. Spags lined up Nick Bolton in the middle of the line, pulling him to the right and shooting Reid up the gap instead. Jake Brendel shifted left instead of right, following Bolton’s movement, leaving Reid and Chris Jones, 2-on-1 against the 49ers’ backup guard Spencer Burford. Burford, shifting with Brendel, lost track of Chris Jones, who bursted through the gap and applied pressure to Purdy almost immediately. Aiyuk, Jennings, and Kittle broke free on the play, but Jones’ immediate pressure gave Purdy almost no time to find an open man. Spagnuolo’s creativity with the blitz once again fooled the 49ers, inducing a second key stop.

Ultimately, these two blitzes put an end to 2 critical 49er drives. The 49ers settled for field goals both times, giving Mahomes just enough room, and time, to take the game late.

Injuries to Greenlaw, and Co. Have Big Impact

After the tragedy that was the NFC Championship Game in 2023, 49ers fans must sound like a broken record running on about what they would’ve been able to do if not for key injuries to key players in big games. But, the reality was on Sunday that injuries to the 49ers did play a role, and may have cost the Bay a title.

Dre Greenlaw: The Greenlaw injury was heartbreaking. Greenlaw, who had been struggling with achilles tendonitis throughout the regular season, tore his achilles running onto the field in the first quarter of the Super Bowl. It was absolutely devastating. Dre Greenlaw, throughout his time on the 49ers, has been the tone setter. Greenlaw plays with physicality like no other, setting a precedent for the entire team day-in and day-out. However, on top of that, Greenlaw, one of the best linebackers in all of football, was set to be a big part of the 49ers’ plan to stop the Chiefs’ “dump” game. In opposition to prior seasons, the 2024 Chiefs took on a “dink-and-dunk” identity which relied on mounting long drives using short passes. Mahomes, who averaged 8.8 average air yards per throw in his 2018 MVP campaign, was down to a career-low 6.3 average air yards per throw this season. This stat is representative of a departure from the explosive, Tyreek Hill Chiefs offense which the 49ers saw in 2019 to an embracement of throws in the flat to Isiah Pacheco and Rashee Rice for short, positive yardage. Greenlaw was the key piece that the 49ers needed to stop this new offensive identity of the Chiefs. Without him on the field, the Chiefs found a rhythm in the 2nd half, and used this intermediate passing game to march down the field. The Chiefs finished the game with over 400 yards, but just one explosive play (the long throw to Mecole Hardman in the first half).

Jon Feliciano: Feliciano went down injured late in the third quarter and never returned. Feliciano, a 9 year NFL veteran, took over the starting right guard position late in the middle of the season from Spencer Burford, who had started in 2023, his rookie season. Though Burford had accumulated plenty of in-game experience throughout the year, Feliciano had proven himself to be much better on passing downs. The 49ers offensive line, already struggling in the game, could not afford to lose Feliciano, who was assigned to block Chris Jones, the Chiefs’ best pass rusher. Burford was immediately attacked after Feliciano went down, with Spagnuolo going right at him on the critical 3rd & 3 in OT which I described above.

Deebo Samuel: Deebo Samuel missed snaps throughout the game due to a hamstring injury. The 49ers looked to exploit Trent McDuffie using Deebo Samuel in 1-on-1 matchups throughout the game. McDuffie got the better of Samuel. However, Samuel did seem to be a beat off all game, struggling to create separation off the ball like he’s normally able to. One long connection to a healthy Samuel could’ve changed the game.

No, Kyle Shanahan is Not to Blame

I see all the talk, and I’m here to stand by my coach. Yes, it looks bad. This is Shanahan’s 3rd Super Bowl loss as an offensive play caller, and his second as the head coach of the 49ers. In all 3 of these losses, Shanahan held a 10+ point lead at one point in the game (including the infamous 28-3 Atlanta vs. New England Super Bowl in which Shanahan was calling plays for the Falcons). However, this game was different, and throughout the game Shanahan played aggressively, not letting the conservative blunders which killed him in previous losses strike him down once again. 

On the 49ers’ third drive of the game, they were faced with 3rd & 14 at the Kansas City 37. On the verge of field goal range, I expected to see Shanahan dial up a run or a screen pass in order to make the field goal more manageable for Moody. Instead, Shanahan tried to catch the Chiefs sleeping, and took a 1-on-1 shot to Deebo Samuel who was being flanked by CB Trent McDuffie. Though incomplete, the look was there. Shanahan was committed to playing aggressive.

Then, late in the 2nd half, on a 2nd & 10 from the Chiefs’ 21, Shanahan made the gutsiest call of his NFL career. Shanahan went flea flicker, putting the ball in hands of HS quarterback turned WR Jauan Jennings to find Christian McCaffrey downfield and put the 49ers in the end zone. Not conservative in the slightest. 

Come 2nd half, criticism met Shanahan as he moved away from the run game and the 49ers had 3 straight 3 & outs. While the need to utilize McCaffrey was apparent, I would argue that the 49ers didn’t start to click offensively in the 2nd half until Purdy’s 17 yard throw to Jauan Jennings in the 2nd half. In fact, all of 3 of the first, 1st downs picked up by the 49ers on their 3 2nd half scoring drives were on throws of 10+ yards down the field. The Chiefs were stacking the box, and Shanahan knew that he needed to throw the ball downfield in order to space the field and move the ball. 

(In fact, according to advanced analytics, the worst decision of the game came from the much glorified Andy Reid, who lowered the Chiefs win probability by 5% punting the ball on 4th and inches on their own 11 yard-line trailing 10-3 in the 3rd quarter. However, Reid came out victorious, and you don’t hear anybody talking about this decision… Source: Bill Barnwell, NFL Next Gen Stats)

Come 4th quarter, with the 49ers trailing 13-10 with 12:36 remaining in the game, Shanahan kept his foot on the gas, not wavering to go-for-it on a 4th & 3 at Kansas City’s 15 yard-line. At this point of the game, it was clear the 49ers needed to punch in a touchdown in order to give their defense some cushion against Mahomes and Co. I can’t remember a time Shanahan has made a gutsy call like this in a major moment in a big game – and yet he did, moving away from his previous ways and trying to go win the game. Purdy found Kittle for the first down conversions, and soon after Jauan Jennings fought his way into the endzone for a go ahead touchdown.

Now let's look at game management. Two major decisions have been put under the microscope in much of the media’s discourse about this game: the decision to receive the ball to start OT instead of kicking off, and the decision to kick a field goal on 4th & 3 instead of go for it. 

Decision #1: This decision I absolutely stand-by. The media believes that the 49ers should have deferred as this would have given them the opportunity to see what the Chiefs did with the ball. However, this completely leaves out game context. The 49ers defense, at this point in the game, was on their heels, and had just played through a long 11 play drive. The Chiefs finally had picked up some offensive momentum, and moved the ball effectively on the final drive of regulation. Given this context, it made absolute sense that Shanahan would want to give his defense a breather and put the ball in the hands of his offense, who had scored on their last two drives. Additionally, with the new playoff overtime rules, the 49ers would have received the ball again if the score remained tied after the opening two drives. If both teams had scored TDs or FGs, which seemed likely given the way that the game was trending, the 49ers would have gotten the 3rd drive of the OT period, and the capability to score and win in a sudden death scenario. 

In discourse following the conclusion of this game, 49ers players such as Kyle Jusyczcyk and Arik Armstead admitted to not knowing the new OT rules during the game. The media had come down on Shanahan for not having his team ready to play, with Stephen A. Smith calling it a “smear” on the 49ers franchise as a whole. While I would’ve liked the players to have known what was going on, I think that this ordeal is being completely blown out of proportion. If the 49ers players had known the OT rules do you think they would’ve tried any harder to score a touchdown? I don’t see it. Knowing the rules or not knowing the rules, the 49ers knew they needed to score. Shanahan put them in a position to do that, and then offensive line communications blew up the drive on that critical 3rd & 3 we’ve discussed.

Decision #2: This one was tough. It definitely did feel like if the 49ers gave the ball back to the Chiefs that Mahomes would take the Chiefs down the field and win the game. However, given the way that the 49ers defense had played all game, and the 49ers offensive line’s inability to pick up the Chiefs’ Cover 1 blitz on back-to-back major red zone third downs, the decision was definitely understandable, and definitely not something that Shanahan should be attacked for.

Didn’t Make the Big Play Late

One of the reasons why I find this loss to be so hard is because there is no one person who I feel is right to place the blame upon. In 2011 there was Kyle Williams. In the Jimmy Garoppolo era he was an easy target. Last year, obviously, there were injuries. But this year, I think there’s more of a collective feeling that the team did not do enough. In the position to win the Super Bowl, our playmakers made less plays than theirs. 

For example, on 3rd and 3 in overtime deep in Chiefs territory, Spagnuolo brought a 6-man blitz. The play was there on this play – Aiyuk and Jennings were set to break free and score touchdowns – but the blitz got to Purdy before he could make an accurate throw, blowing up the play. But really, where do you place the blame on this play? Was it the fault of the offensive line, who seemed to miscommunicate on their blocking assignments leaving Chris Jones unblocked? Was it the fault of Brock Purdy, for not properly identifying the blitz and throwing with anticipation to Aiyuk, who was going to be wide open in the middle of the end zone? Or was it the fault of Kyle Shanahan, for not calling up a play which would have been better equipped to combat the blitz? 

Heck, look at the game as a whole. Purdy played great, but was 6-16 when pressured. The offensive line played poorly throughout the game as a whole, but were missing right guard Jon Feliciano in some of the game’s biggest moments. Deebo Samuel was unable to take advantage of 1-on-1 opportunities against Trent McDuffie, but may have been battling a hamstring injury which forced him to miss snaps early in the game. Nick Bosa was the best player on the field throughout most of Super Bowl 58, but lost contain against Mahomes in OT on 4th & 1, allowing for the Chiefs to extend the drive and eventually win the game.

The luck factor also plays a role undoubtedly. There were 7 fumbles in the game. The ball bounced the Chiefs’ way on 6 of them. And of course there were the injuries which cost the 49ers in big moments throughout the entirety of the game.

At the end of the day, the 49ers did not make enough plays to win. However, I don’t think that we should trope one player or coach for the teams’ shortcomings. We came close, and if more things had gone our way, the game may have come out differently. This group can win a title, it just didn’t happen on Sunday.

Purdy is the Future

In the post game, Chiefs’ safety L’Jarius Sneed made clear Spagnuolo and Kansas City’s defensive game plan. 

“We just wanted Brock to throw the ball,” Sneed stated rashly in his postgame presser.

The statistics going into Super Bowl 58 were clear. The 49ers were great against man coverage all year long, posting a league-leading 0.39 EPA (expected points added) against man coverage in the regular season. Man coverage makes defenses more susceptible to the run game, and also opens up 1-on-1 opportunities after the catch for the 49ers’ YAC bros (Samuel, Aiyuk, Kittle, etc.) known for being able to extend plays for extra yardage with physicality and speed when the football’s in their hands. Though the Chiefs played man coverage at one of the highest rates in the league during the regular season, over 50% of the time, the YAC threat which the 49ers possessed inclined Spagnuolo to turn to zone coverage to start the Super Bowl.

However, Brock Purdy and the 49ers came out and picked the zone looks apart, drawing praise from Spagnuolo after the fact.

“The zones, I just think their wideouts and quarterbacks are so good at their timing routes, and Brock Purdy is really good… He knew when we were in certain things, and he found seams.”

Spagnuolo, who has now won four super bowls as a defensive coordinator, has been around the block, and his praise of Brock Purdy should not fall on deaf ears. Purdy was excellent at identifying Spagnuolo’s zone schemes early. Of Purdy’s 38 pass attempts, 22 were thrown within 3 seconds. On these throws, Purdy completed 17 passes for 189 yards. Sure, Purdy had his struggles under pressure. When forced to hold the ball longer and move away from his first read (6-16 for 66 yards). However, Purdy showed that he is among the best in the NFL at identifying coverage pre-snap and throwing quickly with anticipation before pressure arrives. Throughout the playoffs, Purdy demonstrated his poise and clutchness, leading the 49ers to victories from double-digit deficits against the Packers and Lions, and orchestrating the 49ers’ offense into scoring position in all 3 of their final Super Bowl drives. In just his 2nd year as an NFL starter, Purdy brought the 49ers to the brink of a Super Bowl title, and Bay Area football fans should be excited for years to come about Purdy’s capability to bring hardware home in the near future.

So, there it is Super Bowl LVIII. What a season of football, and what a way to end it. Moving into the offseason the 49ers now have a lot of questions. Free agents include Chase Young, Tashaun Gipson, Jon Feliciano, Javon Kinlaw, Clelin Ferrell, Oren Burks, and most notably Brandon Aiyuk, who had a breakout season posting 75 receptions for 1,342 yards (his 17.9 yards per reception was 2nd in the NFL). Do the 49ers try to retain all core members of this year’s squad and run-it-back with one year left on Brock Purdy’s rookie contract? Or do they look to clear space for Aiyuk and additions to the offensive line, dumping the salary of Deebo Samuel or George Kittle in a trade? Faithful, welcome to an offseason of tough decisions and goodbyes. Although I wish that the 49ers came out on top, I wouldn’t rather spend my Sundays any other way than in my living room, stressing out about m49er football with my dad while I sit on 5 assignments due the next day. Till next time…

Other good reads to digest the game:

How Mahomes and the Chiefs beat the 49ers in Super Bowl 2024, Bill Barnwell:

(Bill Barnwell is my favorite sportswriter on the planet. Must, must read.)

Kyle Shanahan’s Super Bowl 58 OT decision was right but reasoning was flawed, Matt Maiocco:


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