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49ers’ 5 keys to beating Chiefs and winning Super Bowl LVIII

LAS VEGAS – NFL security came looking for John Lynch. The Super Bowl was winding down four years ago, and it was time to escort the 49ers’ general manager, from a sterile suite to the sweaty, tense sideline.

That up-close view is how Lynch saw the 49ers’ 20-10 lead flip, in the final 6 ½ minutes, into a heartbreaking 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

“Not a good memory. The one that got away,” Lynch recalled this week.

Sunday offers one magnificent chance to make amends. The 49ers enter Super Bowl LVIII looking to dethrone the Chiefs, who are seeking their third Lombardi Trophy in four years amid talk of being this decade’s NFL dynasty.

“It’s going to be a real tight game this week,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We have two really good teams, we’ll see how it unfolds, but I like our chances.”

So does Lynch, Shanahan’s wingman of seven years.

“It’s obviously a very talented group, probably as talented as a group I’ve seen assembled, the way they complement each other,” Lynch said. “But they do have a special spirit, evidenced in the last couple of weeks. Those games haven’t gone like we would have scripted.”

After second-half comebacks saved their NFC playoff wins over Green Bay and Detroit, the 49ers must follow these keys to win the franchise’s sixth Lombardi Trophy and first since the 1994 season:


Playing in his fourth Super Bowl in five years, Patrick Mahomes balked at comparisons to seven-time winner Tom Brady, with Mahomes adding: “I’ll do what I can to beat a great 49ers team and get my third (ring).”

What Mahomes does is magically flummox defenses. The 49ers hog-tied him pretty well in their last Super Bowl matchup, until that fourth-quarter collapse. Thus, they preach a defensive strategy expecting each snap to breed two plays because Mahomes invents an extra play on the fly once the original call stalls.

The 49ers’ defensive front must stay persistent in its pursuit, and the coverage units must plaster Mahomes’ receivers. Effort should not be a problem, not after defenders got chastised for their lackadaisical play on two touchdown runs allowed in the NFC Championship Game.

Mahomes – and Taylor Swift – surely will keep their eye out for tight end Travis Kelce. Double-covering him could leave the 49ers prone to screen passes elsewhere, or deep shots against a still-suspect secondary, especially with No. 3 cornerback Ambry Thomas coming off an ankle injury.


Asked at Monday’s media circus what his pro-wrestling name would be, Christian McCaffrey responded: “Probably El Niño.” Make that Super El Niño.

He won the NFL’s rushing title wire-to-wire. He ran for two touchdowns in each of the past two playoff wins. He wants the ball and the control of joining his father, Ed, as only the NFL’s second father-son duo to win a Super Bowl with the same franchise.

“He plays hard, bounces off of contact,” Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton said. “He’s not a guy who’ll wow you with his measurables. He keeps his feet moving. His leverage he plays with, and he’s explosive when he touches the ball. He’s a special player.”

So is Deebo Samuel with his ability to relieve McCaffrey or decoy defenses. That 1-2 punch is even more potent running left behind the blocks of fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end George Kittle and, of course, left tackle Trent Williams, along with whatever linemen also are leading the charge.

The Packers and the Bengals, who both run similar schemes to the 49ers, averaged close to 6 yards per carry against the Chiefs in their December games. Yards are out there to be had for McCaffrey.


Shanahan explained at Opening Night why he enjoys calling plays for Purdy: “Usually when it’s not there, he makes the right decision, as consistently as I’ve been around,” Shanahan said.

Purdy’s self-awareness is as amazing as any of other attributes. He knows what Shanahan wants. He knows what tremendous talent surrounds him, whether that means getting the ball to McCaffrey, Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud or Juszczyk.

But getting that ball past Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones will prove tricky. Jimmy Garoppolo had two key passes batted down by Jones in the 49ers’ last Super Bowl meeting. “You really just try to keep the pocket as deep as possible and keep him on your line of scrimmage,” center Jake Brendel said. “Late in the rush, he’s going to try and bat the ball. You just want to make sure it’s not in the middle of the field.”

Added Purdy: “The biggest challenge for winning this Sunday, for me, is just the Chiefs defense, in general. Their front is really good. It starts with Chris Jones. Their secondary and linebackers, they fly around. How can I be on point every play, make the right decision every play, make the right play every play for four quarters?”


The officiating won’t be perfect. It wasn’t four years ago. Although Bill Vinovich officiated the 49ers-Chiefs matchup in that game, he returns with a new crew this time. In that Super Bowl LIV match, two calls still are stuck in the 49ers’ craw: a no-call when Nick Bosa was held on a comeback-keying pass by Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill, and an offensive pass interference call that wiped out a George Kittle catch just before halftime.

Sub-par field conditions in practice are one thing. It’s another if players’ footing fails in the Super Bowl. The natural grass field, via West Coast Turf in Modesto, has been groomed outside Allegiant Stadium for the past month.

Special teams should not be dismissed as an “intangible,” but we must account for it here, because the 49ers’ coverage units have proven shaky. Rookie kicker Jake Moody missed a field-goal attempt in each of the playoff wins, after slicing two kicks in the regular-season finale.

One more obstacle: Halftime. The extended intermission challenges teams to regain their intensity and energy after being in the locker room for more than 15 minutes. The 2012 49ers surrendered a 108-yard return on the second half’s kickoff as Baltimore surged ahead 28-6 en route to its 34-31 win – and the 49ers’ first-ever Super Bowl loss.


Shanahan has yet to close out a Super Bowl and emerge with the Lombardi Trophy. And he has been reminded of that all week by the media. But perhaps some of that concern has been eased. The 49ers, after all, proved their mettle with second-half comebacks in last month’s playoff wins.

Kelce said the 49ers are “1,000 percent” a different team than the last Super Bowl encounter, adding: “They’re finishing games, and a huge part of this is playing all four quarters.”

For four straight days this week, Shanahan was asked to painfully recall his past playoff shortcomings in the Super Bowl, not so much about the 2016 Atlanta Falcons (when they blew a 28-3 lead while he was the offensive coordinator) but seemingly more so losing to the Chiefs four years ago in Miami.

“I’m very fortunate our team has been able to get here twice. The last one was a tough one. I felt we had every opportunity to win that,” Shanahan said. “They made the plays we didn’t at the end.”

The Chiefs’ infamous play: a third-and-15 for a 44-yard gain to spark their comeback. The 49ers’ infamous play: Garoppolo overthrew an open Emmanuel Sanders on a potential winning touchdown pass, amid a 3-of-11 passing display in the fourth quarter.

In contrast, Purdy was 13-of-16 for 174 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers’ second-half comeback en route to the NFC Championship two weeks ago.

“We’ve been tested. But the resilience has paid off. The belief has paid off,” Lynch said. “There’s a lot of great leadership, a lot of love for each other.”

Shanahan claims he hasn’t thought much about celebrating a Super Bowl win, but admitted: “It won’t be just one night.”

Cam Inman , 2024-02-10 12:05:21

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