LAS VEGAS — For the second time in four years, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan entered a deathly silent locker room with the difficult task of finding the words to comfort a team that had climbed within a few steps of top of the NFL to achieve this. arrived quickly.
Just like after his team gave up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, Shanahan came to the same conclusion after Sunday night’s 25-22 overtime loss to those same Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII.
“There’s nothing different to say,” Shanahan said. “I don’t care how you lose, when you lose the Super Bowl, especially the ones you think you can do well, it hurts. But I think when you’re in the NFL, I think every team should suffer , except one in the standings. We got really close, but we didn’t make it and we’re suffering at the moment.
Sunday night’s loss was painful, not just because the Niners once again had a double-digit lead that they couldn’t hang on to, or because they had two costly mistakes on special teams or because the running back Christian McCaffrey had missed a promising first practice. . It hurts for all these reasons, but even more so because it’s the latest in a series of devastating near misses that become a tradition in late January and early February in San Francisco.
The Niners have advanced to at least the NFC Championship Game in four of the last five seasons. They went to the Super Bowl in two of those campaigns. They blew double-digit leads in Super Bowls and an NFC Championship Game, with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles without a healthy quarterback for most of that game.
This is San Francisco’s third straight Super Bowl loss since their last victory following the 1994 season, making them the fifth team to lose three straight Super Bowls along with the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Broncos Denver and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Niners are also now 0-4 against the Chiefs under Shanahan, the most losses without a win against any opponent under his watch.
The 49ers have had great success getting into the playoffs consistently. But the inability to turn them into championships left a still-bitter taste in the 49ers’ mouths.
“We’ve been so close so many times that there are only so many more chances,” defensive end Nick Bosa said.
Sunday’s loss came with plenty of opportunities to seal the deal.
The 49ers were the aggressors in the first half, moving the ball at will on the game’s first drive, averaging 11.5 yards per play on their first four snaps. Then on first-and-10 at the Kansas City 29-yard line, McCaffrey took a handoff to the right where he was met by Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal, who released the ball, while defensive end George Karlaftis recovered it at the Kansas City 27.
It was McCaffrey’s third fumble of the season after losing just two in his first six seasons combined (2017 to 2022). After the loss, a discouraged McCaffrey repeated the same phrase several times over the course of a few minutes.
“The first thing I think is I can’t put the ball on the ground on the first drive,” McCaffrey said. “This is going to sting. Put this on me.”
This isn’t the only costly incident for San Francisco. With 2:42 left in the third quarter and the Niners getting the ball back with a 10-6 lead, a special teams unit that was having a good game took a turn for the worse.
Kansas City punter Tommy Townsend’s kick traveled 40 yards to the Niners’ 25-yard line, where it hit rookie cornerback Darrell Luter Jr.’s leg as he attempted to block returner Ray- Ray McCloud.
Luter said he didn’t hear the call of “Peter,” which is the signal to get out of the way if the ball is heading for a no-return. McCloud, alert, tried to recover the ball but lost it, and Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson fell on it at the Niners’ 16.
McCloud said he had no regrets about how he attempted to catch or recover the ball, but Luter was more disappointed with his inability to dodge the ball in the first place.
“It’s a bad feeling,” Luter said. “It kind of makes you feel like it’s all on you. That’s how it makes you feel. But I kind of have to take it with a grain of salt at the end of the day and just go from there. ‘forward and learn from it.’
Even after the Chiefs immediately turned that mistake into a touchdown, the 49ers bounced back with a 12-play touchdown run — but even that was tempered by kicker Jake Moody’s extra point blocked by Chenal.
The Niners and Chiefs traded field goals to go to overtime, at which point San Francisco won the coin toss and decided to take the ball first. Under the league’s new playoff overtime rules, both teams have the chance to possess the ball before the game ends unless the first drive ends with a safety.
“We’ve been so close so many times that there are only so many more opportunities.”
49ers DE Nick Bosa
Before the game, Shanahan said he and his analytics team discussed overtime possibilities and decided that with Patrick Mahomes on the other side, it would be best to take the ball first, because that would also mean the Niners would have the ball on third down either way. the teams tied the scores on their opening possessions and overtime progressed to sudden death.
Shanahan said he felt good about the game he and his team coached.
“What I can’t live with is when I do things that I didn’t plan to do or didn’t do, and I second-guess myself,” Shanahan said. “I’m proud of what we did today as coaches and as players. We worked and we did everything we set out to do. We just didn’t get it done. “
Now the 49ers are heading into another offseason where they will be forced to figure out how they can finally break through. The questions about everything that stopped them from winning this one and those before it will linger.
Most of San Francisco’s veterans are still under contract and expected to be back for another stint. Before all that, it will take time for the 49ers to mourn yet another defeat on the Super Bowl stage. As Shanahan reminded his players in the locker room after the game, there is no time limit on dealing with this pain.
It’s a process they are all too familiar with.
“It’s tough to show up on the biggest stage in the world and fall behind and have to deal with what that entails,” San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “It’s not easy, but it’s something we will never back down from and never back down from.”