Shock and Awe: What Went Wrong For the San Francisco 49ers In the Super Bowl?

What Went Wrong For the San Francisco 49ers In the Super Bowl image

📖 Published on: February 14th, 2024

✍️ Updated: February 23rd, 2024

⏳ 10 mins read


The Super Bowl LVIII gave fans a run for their money as the game needed overtime to wrap up the battle between the two best teams in the NFL. But what went wrong for the San Francisco 49ers that led to their untimely collapse which cost their hopes of winning a title for the first time since 1982? Let us divulge on the big matters that played a huge role in their tough loss.


Background: How the 49ers Established a Chance to Win the Super Bowl?


No one can deny that the San Francisco 49ers were heavy favorites to win the Super Bowl LVIII to begin the game. Many predictions had them in their sights as the clear winner thanks to their impressive performances in the regular season and the high-octane offense that showed up in the postseason. This all led them to being recognized as favorites to win the game.


On top of that, Kyle Shanahan’s experience in the league has seen him a lot of success over the years, and he has managed to translate that expertise into massive wins down the stretch, especially in the 2023-24 season where they managed to shock the rest of the league and deliver a promising campaign.


How the 49ers Established a Chance to Win the Super Bowl image


We haven’t even talked about their star-studded roster led by Brock Purdy and Jauan Jennings. Christian McCaffrey has also stepped up well in the season to lead the way for the 49ers. Star power has been quite the focus for the Niners’ success, and yet it seems that they fell short on the biggest stage – where it matters most.


What Went Wrong for the 49ers?


There were a lot of mistakes down the stretch for the 49ers that allowed the momentum to shift in the favor of the Kansas City Chiefs. It cannot be denied that most of these were visible in the late moments of the game and definitely fell apart for the Niners in the clutch. Of course, fans were quick to despise the lack of decisiveness and possessions that could have turned their chances around in the final moments of the game. During the postgame interviews, the 49ers were definitely in shock by the loss. After all, nothing stings like losing in the Super Bowl when you’re so close to winning the game. For the Niners, this is a disappointing loss that will sting for a while, and no one can deny that it would last for months.


So were the biggest errors that cost the Niners their first championship since 1982? Let’s take a look.


Complacency After a Strong Start


After starting 10-0 to begin the game, the 49ers suddenly got too confident in their plays and went a little loose in the succeeding possessions. The defense suddenly got soft, and they were allowing the Chiefs to easily gain yards in a quick snap. They couldn’t even stop Patrick Mahomes from rushing on his own whenever he couldn’t find open runners. That proved to be crucial as the Chiefs went on to score a quick field goal to stay on the prowl.


Even with a 10-3 lead, the Niners got too comfortable after that touchdown by McCaffrey. It took 10 minutes for the Chiefs to score a field goal, and it would seem that it was a good result for the 49ers in that stretch, but it actually allowed the Chiefs to gather their wits and establish a push later on in the game.


Halftime Momentum Shift


True enough, the Chiefs managed to come back into the game slowly but surely. It was quite a spectacle as Kansas City’s defense shifted to a strong wall as they forced multiple interceptions and incompletions whenever the Niners tried to make their push and answer back. That cost them the whole third quarter as the Chiefs were able to outscore them 10-0 in that stretch.


The first score came on a Harrison Butker field goal from 28 yards, which was significantly a giveaway for the team. However, the late touchdown from Marques Valdes-Scantling shifted the tide for the Chiefs as they managed to break through the defense for 16 yards and nailed quite an uncontested touchdown.


Halftime Momentum Shift image


The Niners were slow in transition. The Chiefs were playing long attacks in their possessions, which were effective in tiring out the 49ers’ defensive unit. That said a lot about the strategy that the Niners had no answer for, which was dubbed the “Andy Reid Special” that gave Kansas City the lead at 13-10 to end the quarter.


Missed Opportunities in the Fourth


The fourth quarter was quite a tough stretch for both teams, but it was the Chiefs who made the most of their possessions that led to the overtime. Sure, the Niners regained the lead behind Jennings’ touchdown from Purdy in the 11th minute, but then it was considered less impactful as the Chiefs managed to clap back when it mattered most, especially in the dying moments of the fourth. After Jake Moody managed to come up with a clutch field goal to give the Niners a lead that they needed, it seemed timely that the defense was now tasked to hold on for the last 1:53 left in the game. That proved to be futile for the team as they could not come up with the stops needed to halt the Chiefs from gaining yards in the final moments of the game.


Missed Opportunities in the Fourth image


Perhaps the biggest mistake was to disregard Travis Kelce’s presence on the sides. The Chiefs’ tight end didn’t have much of a big game himself, but when it mattered most, he was able to push the yards for Kansas City and help them pull closer into the end zone. It definitely cost the Niners a chance to close the game for good as it then allowed the Chiefs to eventually get a comfortable field goal with just three seconds left. With the game now tied, it was a brand new game that led to the extra fifteen minutes. Now the Chiefs had a lot of hope to turn their chances into something bigger as the 49ers were no longer holding the upper hand.


Defensive Meltdown for the Niners

The Niners won the coin toss and were able to score a field goal from Moody to take the lead with seven minutes left to play. Some even say that the decision to go first was the wrong decision as it allowed the Chiefs to have all the time in the world to redirect their offense while the Niners settled for a field goal. But then again, it is the defense that went wrong for San Francisco at the end of the day.


Defensive Meltdown for the Niners image


With the Chiefs gaining momentum, they were able to build some impressive stretches that allowed them to make a push. Sure, the defense was able to stall the Chiefs into burning through the clock, but then it also led them to make some desperation pushes with Mahomes even gaining yards in the clutch – which allowed them to get close as three yards when it mattered most – finally getting a better chance to score a touchdown.


For the Niners, the goal was to force the Chiefs into scoring a field goal instead. This meant that the defense was focused on putting up stops against Kansas City’s rushers such as Isiah Pacheco and Rashee Rice – which worked well for them to delay the possession. However, the receivers proved to be strong distractions as well, with Kelce gaining some ground and drawing multiple defenders in the end zone.


Niners vs Chiefs at Super Bowl image


That allowed Mecole Hardman to get free when the rotation drew defenders away from him, and Mahomes was quick to recognize the misdirection by Kelce, which allowed him to make a quick pass with just three seconds left to win the game for good. The Chiefs managed to tear a hole in the defensive wall that was supposed to prevent a touchdown, and that delivered the win for them.


Major Takeaways for the 49ers’ Tough Super Bowl Loss


While they lost big-time to the Chiefs, this game was by far, the best Super Bowl in years. Like the Chiefs when they lost to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losing remains a massive lesson for the Niners that needs to be taken into consideration and would be a great chance for them to build on those mistakes to learn what they can. This builds a winning culture, much like how the Chiefs are doing in their games right now.


At the end of the day, players own up to their mistakes and make amends to it. For the 49ers, the best way is to acknowledge where they went wrong, and come up with solutions in the offseason for Kyle Shanahan to put in. Who knows, maybe a back-to-back trip to the Super Bowl will be in for them next year, and if they’re lucky, they might just get the Chiefs to battle once more.


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