49ers minutia minute: The players who stood out in the Super Bowl — good and bad – The Athletic

By Matt BarrowsFeb 12, 2024

LAS VEGAS — Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on the defense.

That was the situation for the San Francisco 49ers when it came Patrick Mahomes and read-option runs out of the shotgun formation. The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback gouged them with keepers twice in the game — on a 22-yard run in the third quarter and on a critical fourth-and-1 carry in overtime on which he picked up 8 yards.


It’s a rare play for Mahomes as CBS analyst Tony Romo noted during the Super Bowl telecast. He’ll only keep the ball if he’s unaccounted for, and in both situations Sunday the 49ers didn’t account for him.

“Yeah, the zone read got us a couple times,” said defensive end Nick Bosa, who crashed down on the running back on both plays. “Could’ve been more prepared there. We have to know in crucial situations who’s going to have the ball. And obviously it’s him. He had a scramble down the middle on that last drive. And … yeah.”

That’s not to say it was a bad performance by Bosa (see below) and the defense. On the contrary, they had Mahomes on the run for the first two-thirds of the game. But on a few critical snaps — including the final one — it was evident the unit was underprepared.

Bosa and the defense also were clearly gassed by game’s end. They played 79 snaps while the offense played 75. The only game in which the defense was on the field longer this season was the Week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams in which it played 80 snaps.

Here’s how the individual snaps were divided:

Quarterback: Brock Purdy 75

Purdy was sharp to start the game. He began 5 of 5 for 56 yards. The Chiefs, however, have excellent cornerbacks, and they played more man-to-man coverage than the 49ers were expecting.

Steve Spagnuolo’s unit also made things very uncomfortable for Purdy. Though he was sacked just once, he dealt with a messy pocket for most of the contest. He was pressured on 20 of his 41 dropbacks and only completed 44.4 percent of those throws. Overall, his 60.5 percent completion percentage was his fourth lowest of the season.


Running back: Christian McCaffrey 71, Kyle Juszczyk (fullback) 43, Elijah Mitchell 4, Deebo Samuel 1, George Kittle 1

McCaffrey’s opening-drive fumble was just his second lost fumble of the season. He also fumbled on the 12-yard line on the opening drive of a Week 7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Juszczyk’s last two games were his most productive of the season as a receiver. He finished with 33 yards against the Detroit Lions and 31 against the Chiefs, including an 18-yard catch on the opening drive on which he leaped over a defensive back. His 43 snaps also were a season high.

Receiver: Brandon Aiyuk 67, Samuel 53, Jauan Jennings 40, Chris Conley 8, Ray-Ray McCloud III 6

Purdy targeted Samuel a game-high 11 times and he caught just three of those passes for 33 yards. That can be attributed to the pressure the quarterback was under on some throws and to a hamstring injury Samuel suffered in the third quarter. At times, it also looked as if Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie was running the route for Samuel. The tight, man-to-man coverage by McDuffie and fellow starter L’Jarius Sneed made the over-the-middle throws — on which Purdy and his receivers thrived in 2024 — a rarity on Sunday.

Purdy had more luck targetting Jennings, who caught four of five targets for 42 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter on which he broke two tackles. If the 49ers had won the game, there’s a good chance Jennings, who also threw a touchdown pass, would have been the game’s MVP. Jennings, who had 19 catches in the regular season, had 10 in the postseason. He’ll be a restricted fre agent in March, and the 49ers’ tender offer ought to be interesting.

Tight end: Kittle 63, Charlie Woerner 15, Brayden Willis 4

Kittle didn’t want to talk about his shoulder injury after the game, but Kyle Shanahan said “he was playing through a lot of pain” and you could tell as much from the tight end’s body language after some plays. Woerner, not Kittle, played the first eight snaps of the 49ers’ drive in overtime. Willis also was sprinkled in on the drive and was called for holding during a run by Mitchell. Perhaps not coincidentally, Kittle re-entered on the next play.


Offensive line: Trent Williams 75, Aaron Banks 75, Jake Brendel 75, Colton McKivitz 75, Spencer Burford 44, Jon Feliciano 31

Four years ago in Miami, the 49ers committed two false starts in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, there were four — on Williams, Banks, Aiyuk and linebacker Dee Winters (on special teams). Overall, the 49ers had six penalties for 44 yards. The Chiefs had six for 55 yards.

Banks had a particularly rough outing in giving up a team-high five quarterback pressures. Three were caused by Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and two of those came in overtime, according to Pro Football Focus. Jones had six quarterback pressures altogether, including on the third-and-4 play in overtime on which he wasn’t blocked at all.

Feliciano suffered an elbow injury midway through the third quarter and was replaced by Burford at right guard.

Quarterback pressures allowed:

  • Banks 5
  • McKivitz 4
  • Burford 3
  • Brendel 2
  • Feliciano 1
  • Williams 0

Defensive line: Bosa 68, Chase Young 55, Arik Armstead 53, Javon Hargrave 48, Kevin Givens 27, Randy Gregory 27, Javon Kinlaw 26, Robert Beal Jr. 8, Sebastian Joseph-Day 4

Bosa had no sacks on Sunday, but he harried Mahomes throughout the game. Pro Football Focus credited him with 12 pressures. He’s only reached that number twice before in his career — last season against the Rams (14) and in the Super Bowl four years ago in Miami (12).

Effort also wasn’t an issue like it was in the previous two playoff games. Young and Gregory were running down plays early when the defense had Mahomes and the Chiefs off balance. Young had a sack and forced Mahomes into an intentional grounding penalty in the second quarter while Gregory chased down Mahomes on third down in the first quarter.

Chase Young was disruptive on Sunday, delivering a sack and four pressures. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

The 49ers also kept a steady rotation along the defensive line with Beal first entering the game midway through the second quarter.

Quarterback pressures:

  • Bosa 12
  • Armstead 7
  • Hargrave 6
  • Young 4
  • Kinlaw 1
  • Gregory 1
  • Givens 1

Linebacker: Fred Warner 79, Oren Burks 71, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles 12, Dre Greenlaw 12, Winters 1

After the game, Shanahan confirmed that Greenlaw tore his Achilles tendon while sprinting off the sideline following a punt. Greenlaw dealt with an array of issues in 2024, including an Achilles issue at the end of the season.

“He’s just been dealing with that same Achilles injury for the last few weeks,” Warner said. “So when we ran out on the field together and I saw him drop down, I knew exactly what happened.”


Dre Greenlaw’s injury encapsulated the anguish inside the 49ers’ locker room

Burks took over Greenlaw’s weakside linebacker role with Flannigan-Fowles filling in at strongside linebacker. Flannigan-Fowles also went to the sideline late in the game, which is why Winters played one defensive snap, but returned on the next series.

Warner led the team with 13 tackles and was one of several defenders assigned to stopping Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. The results were decidedly mixed. Kelce had 1 receiving yard at halftime but ended up with a game-high 93 yards, including a critical 22-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter when he was able to slip free of Warner in the open field.


Cornerback: Charvarius Ward 79, Deommodore Lenoir 78, Logan Ryan 62, Ambry Thomas 1

Ryan, who played safety when he first joined the 49ers in early December, took over as their full-time nickel cornerback in their biggest game of the season. The Chiefs targeted him seven times and he allowed five catches for a modest 43 yards. However, he was prominent on the Chiefs’ game-winning touchdown as he and Warner went after Mahomes on the play and no one covered receiver Mecole Hardman in the end zone.

Lenoir and Ward, who were picked apart by the Chiefs when they visited Levi’s Stadium last season, were strong on Sunday. Lenoir forced a fumble that thwarted a Kansas City scoring opportunity in the second quarter. Ward, who gave up 104 yards against Mahomes last season and called it the worst game of his career, wasn’t targeted at all on Sunday.

Safety: Tashaun Gipson Sr. 79, Ji’Ayir Brown 78, George Odum 1

It seemed like the 49ers’ safeties were in perfect position for an interception — or at least a pass breakup — when Mahomes launched a deep ball to Hardman in the second quarter. Brown was behind Hardman and Gipson was in front. But Brown got turned around on the route and Gipson never picked up the ball in flight. The result was a 52-yard completion, the biggest play of the game for either team.

The 49ers also had a busted coverage on Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s 16-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Brown appeared to zoom forward to cover Kelce down the sideline, which left Valdes-Scantling alone down the seam.

Special teams: Woerner 27, Willis 27, Odum 27, Darrell Luter Jr. 22, Winters 22, Jordan Mason 22, Flannigan-Fowles 20, Conley 19, Beal 15, Burks 14, Isaiah Oliver 13, McCloud 12, Jake Moody 11, Mitch Wishnowsky 10, Taybor Pepper 10, Thomas 7, Juszczyk 7, Warner 6, Lenoir 6, Banks 5, McKivitz 5, Burford 5, Ben Bartch 5, Jaylon Moore 5, Gregory 5, Kinlaw 5, Givens 5, Gipson 5, Ryan 5, Jennings 4, Brendel 3, Ward 2, Feliciano 2, Joseph-Day 2, Bosa 1, Young 1, Brown 1


The 49ers’ special teams MVP on Sunday? It was Conley by a landslide. Even at age 31, he’s among the fastest 49ers, and it showed on punt coverage. He finished with two tackles — one of which knocked return man Richie James backward 5 yards — and also downed a punt at the 2-yard line.

Moody also stood out with three field goals, two beyond 50 yards. That performance in such a high-intensity atmosphere — and the fact that he boomed all of his kickoffs deep into the end zone — likely reaasures the 49ers they made the right choice by taking Moody in the third round.

He also missed his second extra point of the season, which can’t be understated in a game that was tied at the end of regulation. Shanahan said he wasn’t sure what happened on the play, but the kick seemed low and Chiefs got good penetration on the left side of the San Francisco line. Linebacker Leo Chenal got an initial finger on the ball and it also deflected off the hand of the player beside him.

Finally, McCloud showed good awareness in calling out for teammates to avoid a short punt in the third quarter and then going after it immediately. However, the right move would have been to pounce on the bouncing ball, not try to scoop it up and run with it. Mahomes hit Valdes-Scantling on the next play to give the Chiefs their first lead of the game.

(Top photo of Nick Bosa: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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Matt Barrows is a senior writer for The Athletic covering the 49ers. He joined The Athletic in 2018 and has covered the 49ers since 2003. He was a reporter with The Sacramento Bee for 19 years, four of them as a Metro reporter. Before that he spent two years in South Carolina with The Hilton Head Island Packet. Follow Matt on Twitter @MattBarrows