49ers’s coaching falls short in the big game

February 18, 2024 — by George Hu
Graphic by George Hu
The San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs competed in the 58th Super Bowl on Feb. 11.
The most disappointing mistake was abandoning the run in the third quarter.

Going into this year’s NFL playoffs, many people, including me, thought the 49ers would win Super Bowl LVIII. After all, they had the best record in the National Football Conference (NFC), going 12-5 in the regular season, and an easier path to the big game than any other team. 

Despite this performance, the team lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 25-22 in overtime on Feb. 11, despite having a double-digit lead in the first half and having a lead late in the fourth quarter.

The loss was the result of many things that went wrong for the 49ers at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas: running back Christian McCaffrey’s uncharacteristic fumble in the first quarter as the offense neared the red zone, linebacker Dre Greenlaw’s freak achilles injury as ran onto the field in the second quarter, wide receiver Deebo Samuel’s hamstring injury in the third quarter, a muffed punt in the third quarter resulted in a fumble recovery and a short field for Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, kicker Jake Moody’s low blocked extra point attempt and the defense’s inability to stop the Chiefs offense in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Many fans online were quick to blame Moody for the loss, but he did more good for the team than harm. The rookie kicker from Michigan hit two field goals over 50 yards, which has rarely ever been done in the Super Bowl. In fact, he held the NFL record for the longest field goal in Super Bowl history, hitting a 55-yard field goal in the second quarter, until Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker hit a 57-yard field goal to break Moody’s record in the third quarter. 

Hitting long field goals is tough for any field goal kicker in the Super Bowl, as these kicks can make or break their season, leading to immense pressure. Additionally, as a rookie, Moody is still adapting to the atmosphere of the NFL and doesn’t deserve this blame.

Even if Moody had hit the extra point, the 49ers were far from guaranteed to win, as they would have been only leading 20 to 16 at the start of the Chiefs’ final drive in regulation. The Chiefs offense would have been more aggressive pushing down the field had they known that they needed a touchdown rather than a field goal.

Instead, I would place more blame on the coaches, specifically for abandoning the run game in the third quarter. In the third quarter, the 49ers went three-and-out three times. Of the nine plays who ran that quarter, only one of them was a run play for McCaffrey. Although McCaffrey did fumble earlier in the contest, I would still consider him by far the 49ers’s most effective weapon, as he finished with a total of 160 scrimmage yards, leading the team in rushing and receiving yards. 

Instead of abandoning the run game, the team’s play caller, head coach Mike Shanahan, should have given McCaffrey more touches; doing so would’ve allowed the 49ers to advance the ball further down the field. This would have not only provided the offense with more momentum, but also kept the defense off the field longer, giving them the extra energy boost needed to stop the Chiefs offense late in the game.

The 49ers also decided to take the ball first in overtime after winning the coin toss, which I feel was a good decision. Their defense needed rest after defending long drives of the Chiefs offense in the second half, and if the game went on after both teams got one possession, it would give them the shot at scoring and winning in sudden death fashion. (If both teams possess the ball once and the game is tied, the next team to score wins.)

A 49ers win was so, so close, but it wasn’t meant to be. Going into 2024, the team should focus on improving their secondary and hire someone like former Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Despite the enormous disappointment of the big game, 49ers fans should be proud their team made it as far as they did and should be optimistic about the upcoming season. 

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