Days later, the bitter taste hasn’t yet left the mouths of anyone hoping for a Super Bowl victory for the San Francisco 49ers. In a thrilling finish, the 49ers were unable to keep their lead against the Kansas City Chiefs. Today we take a hard look at the crushing loss and figure out how the 49ers left Miami without their sixth Lombardi trophy.
Where is the Run?
In the fourth quarter, leading 20-10 against Kansas City, the 49ers ran the ball a total of four times (five if you include a quarterback scramble). By comparison, the Chiefs ran the football (non-scrambles), thrice. The shocking lack of rushing attempts for San Francisco played a major factor in the fourth-quarter collapse by the 49ers. Throughout the majority of the 2019 season, the 49ers would crush trailing opposition in the late stages of the game with the run. It is the undoubted strength of the San Francisco offense and carried the team through the playoffs. However, at the biggest moments, the ground game disappeared. The disappearance of the ground game was not a result of a stingy defense. Rather it was a decision by head coach Kyle Shanahan to focus on throwing the football. It snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the 49ers led by 10 points. Kansas City turned the ball over on a Patrick Mahomes interception. The 49ers took over at their 20-yard line with just under 12 minutes remaining. They gained five yards on a first down run, followed up by two consecutive throws. Kansas City scored a touchdown on a 12-play drive. Another San Francisco three-and-out was followed by a Chiefs scoring drive. By that point, the double-digit lead turned into a deficit. San Francisco had the football with just north of two-minutes left in the game. A touchdown meant a Super Bowl victory. It started with a 17-yard run by Raheem Mostert but was followed by six consecutive passes. The ground game led the way to the Super Bowl. It’s a shame it was left in the locker rooms after halftime.
While the offensive line surrendered just a single sack, the Chiefs were able to get consistent pressure in the second half. Part of the issue was the choice to ignore the ground game. Another aspect that led to pressure was the blitz packages employed by Kansas City defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo. The San Francisco offensive line struggled to contend with the blitzes, primarily up the middle. Center Ben Garland did a solid job of calling out protections and handling rushers on his own. However, guards Mike Person and Laken Tomlinson struggled in pass protection.
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Both guards were often beat in one on one situations, resulting in immediate pressure for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Pressure up the middle means less room for the quarterback to step into throws. It was the pressure that led to batted passes and errant throws. When given time, Garoppolo showed his ability and held his own against Mahomes. However, when unable to step into throws, it left the quarterback to sail passes and led to both interceptions. The interior of the offensive line will be an area of concern during the offseason. Changes need to be made if the 49ers intend to play in another Super Bowl.
Sharing the Blame
The blame for the fourth-quarter collapse by San Francisco can be shared by many. It takes multiple mistakes at various points, to allow for such a sudden fall. Both the offense and defense for the 49ers failed to make plays down the stretch, often making a mistake not previously seen through the seasons first 20 weeks. The coaching staff failed to make the adjustments both schematically and with personnel to stem the tide that was the Kansas City offense. On the Chiefs’ game-winning drive, the secondary was visibly tired and struggling to keep up with the pace. This resulted in missed tackles and confusion on the back end.
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The players also failed to produce. The blocking up front on passing plays was downright awful at the end of the game. Garoppolo also missed a few wide-open receivers which would have extended drives and more. The blame must be shared throughout the team, save a select few. It was a shame to see this team suffer through their worst five minutes of the season, in the biggest possible moment. The victory was there for the taking. It was a true team effort.
At the end of the day, the 49ers failed to rise to the challenge. Kansas City fought for sixty minutes and made the plays to secure victory. Make no mistake, they were far from the better team. However, the better team doesn’t always win. Sometimes the better team encounters a dry spell. It’s at those moments where the opponent can strike and take advantage. The Chiefs did just that. It was a rough finish to an otherwise fantastic season for the 49ers. a four-win team finished with 15 wins and a chance to win a title. Maybe next year they’ll do it.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada