Yesterday, I did a live thread on Facebook during the Super Bowl. Today, I’ll distill those comments and expand upon a few. If you want the original complete thread, you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/rhodri2112/posts/10158095267396085.
Before the game, I predicted the Chiefs to win 34-27, so I wasn’t far off. I kind of rooted for the Chiefs, in part because someone in my house had to and the stepdaughter is a huge 49ers fan, and in part because the petty Cowboys fan in me wanted Andy Reid to win for someone other than the Eagles.
Overall, I thought Patrick Mahomes was mediocre until the very end, Reid outcoached Shanahan by a lot, and Nick Bosa was the MVP.
The day started with some awkwardness. The Chiefs almost bungled the coin toss and Bill Vinovich, rightly in my opinion, saved them. He overrode a player who tried to say “We’re kicking” by saying, “You’re taking the ball” until the Chiefs finally agreed. The Chiefs lost the toss, the 49ers deferred which means they get the choice to start the 2nd half. Had the Chiefs chosen to kick there, the 49ers would have chosen to receive in the 2nd half, meaning they would have gotten it to start both halves.
After the Cowboys almost botched it earlier, the NFL either needs to streamline this process by asking if the team winning the coin toss wants to get it first or second half, or these special teams coaches need to brief their players better. I go with the first, because KC’s teams were really good and well-coached all year long. The reason, by the way, for the confusing option is to allow teams to take the wind, but with fewer and fewer games affected by weather, I think we should make that option one they actively have to choose.
One reason that didn’t turn into a hullaballoo, I think, was the great Jake from State Farm commercial with a new Jake which immediately followed. Great way to use all the old humor while adding more. My second favorite commercial for the night actually.
The opening kickoff gave us the first questionable decision, and that was Mecole Hardman choosing to return the ball from 5-6 yards into the endzone. Even for the best returners, this is an iffy decision. He got to the 26, so it turned out OK, but the risk/reward there between coverage, penalty, and fumble vs. long return just isn’t there.
Side note, the the 49ers teams played really well overall, and so did the Chiefs. Almost a great day for the Chiefs if Byron Pringle, who had a great game, could pull that ball out of the end zone on the punt with about 2 minutes remaining in the first half.
Patrick Mahomes made several mistakes right off the bat. He was clearly amped too much and I think that pretty much lasted until the 49ers gave him a coverage gift in the long throw to Tyreek Hill in the 4th. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Then we got to the first mistake, the fumble on the punt return. The 49ers got really lucky that the ball bounced their way, because Pringle fought through a double-team block to get there. Like I said, I thought he was great.
Then the 49ers took the ball down the field for a FG. This is how I thought the 49ers offense would look all day. Lots of great, intricate running plays with tons of misdirection and the occasional pass to take advantage of gaps in the zone provided by KC having to play zone.
Side note one here: We’re witnessing a revolution in the running game. Analytics is clear that passing is better than running. The average pass play, counting sacks, incompletions, and scrambles gets about twice as much as every called running play. The revolution has made running much more effective, but requires constant motion and misdirection.
I am unsure what defenses will need to do to adjust, but my guess is a dramatic change in actual kinds of defenders, moving to some sort of 2-4-3-2 kind of thing. The 2 are down linemen. The 4 are hybrid edge defenders. These will vary from a big ones to play a normal DE, to heavy safeties who will be faster than LBs but still can provide good run support. The 3 are CBs to defend the 3rd wide receiver (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR is the most common offensive formation now), and the remaining 2 are more safeties. I guess, now that I write it down, I think safety hybrids will become more and more valuable.
Anyway, back to the game. Whenever the 49ers offense ran first they controlled the Chiefs defense. I’m not surprised. The Chiefs defense is better than many prognosticators said, but so is the 49ers offense. 49ers 3-0.
At least, they are when their coach doesn’t play to lose.
I think it’s at this point we got the first Tide commercial. Man, I thought those were awful. Bland humor at best repeated ad nauseam. Overall, I thought the commercials were pretty weak. The ad creators tried too hard and rarely hit the mark. I’ll mention a few highlights along the way, though.
Then came another play not to lose decision by Shanahan. On the Chiefs’ second drive, they ran a 2nd and 2 play which was incomplete but the Chiefs also had an ineligible man downfield. Had the 49ers accepted the penalty, the Chiefs would have been 2nd and 12. They declined it to go to 3rd and 2. Amazingly, one of the best offenses there is managed to get 2 yards on the next play on the way to a TD. Amazingly.
Later on the drive came a real interesting play: (2:22 – 1st) P.Mahomes scrambles right end to SF 3 for 12 yards (J.Ward). FUMBLES (J.Ward) ball out of bounds at SF 5. SF-J.Ward was injured during the play. His return is Questionable.
Ward had a great and legal hit there. What’s fascinating with this play, though, is his hit turned it from a 12 yard gain and a 1st down into a 10 yard gain and a 4th down.
Andy Reid is a great coach, and he showed it time and again in this game. He went for it. Absolutely the right call, as I said before the Chiefs converted it.
And that doesn’t even touch upon the great play call on a play yoinked by Eric Bienemy from the 1942 Rose Bowl. True story. I’ve seen the replay of the 1942 play and it’s exactly the same. It’s a small misdirection to change the direct snap that gives the defense a small hesitation and on short-yardage plays, that’s all you need. They got 4 yards and a 1st and goal from the 1.
Side note: Eric Bienemy should be a head coach next year. Should have been one this year. He may not end up being a great one, but he’s definitely an offensive wizard.
Which showed on their scoring play. They scored on 2nd down with a brilliant play. I predicted a play-action pass. What I got might have been better. It was a play fake dive just like the play-action to create exactly the same crunch of defenders in the middle. However, Mahomes then went wide with an RB at his side for an option play. Two on one against the CB. The CB can’t win that, and he didn’t. Beautiful stuff. Chiefs, 7-0.
After that was the Tom Brady Hulu ad. That was cold and cruel. Patriots fans lost their souls for about ten seconds.
Bashaud Breeland was an early contender for MVP in my mind. He made a couple of great tackles on WR screens and he took advantage of Pennel’s great hit on Garoppolo to get an interception. It’s a real shame he got dinged in the 2nd quarter for a bit.
The Chiefs got a FG on the ensuing drive, though I thought Reid’s play calls were iffy in the red zone this time. His offense focuses on horizontal passes and yards after the catch, but sometimes you need to have at least one receiver going over the top. This has happened to him before and will again. It’s not a question of aggressiveness, just style. Anyway, 10-3 Chiefs.
Now the 49ers get the ball and have a chance to get back into the groove. One play they used on this drive was the push pass. This is essentially an end around/jet sweep from the shotgun. However, it’s technically a pass because the “handoff” is a forward toss. This is such a smart thing. First, it pushes the defense to be keeping to their jobs. Second, if there’s a problem with the exchange and the ball falls to the ground, it’s an incomplete pass, not a fumble. Great stuff, and Deebo Samuel is the perfect style of WR to use it.
Samuel, by the way, had a very good game and the 49ers could have used him more.
This drive ended with a 15 yard TD to Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk has been fantastic this year, and he was great in this game. 3 catches on 3 targets with a bunch of great blocks. He scored one of the 49ers TD and set up the other.
Now we get to a series of mediocre decisions.
First, Hardman took an end around on 2nd and 8 and lost 6 yards. At the end, he meekly went out of bounds. Awful. Even the Chiefs struggle to get a 1st on 3rd and 14. They didn’t. With less than two minutes left in the 1st half, if he stays in bounds, he forces the 49ers to think about a time out.
In any case, the 49ers should now expect to get the ball and expect to have a good chance to score. However, Shanahan didn’t think of it in those terms. He coached not to lose. The following play was a screen pass for only 1 yard, meaning at 1:53 left on the clock it was 4th and 13 for the Chiefs. You take a time out there if you’ve got 2 or 3 remaining. He had all 3.
But he didn’t take a time out.
This is astounding to me. If you take it there, you get the ball back with about 1:45 left and 2 time outs. Any competent NFL QB can look at that as an opportunity for points. Apparently Shanahan doesn’t think Garoppolo was competent. He basically rolled over and played dead.
Then, with 14 seconds left, the 49ers got to about their own 45. They could have been there with about 1:20 or so and still with 2 TOs even with the same play calls. At that point they’re really likely to score something. Instead, they are forced to try their only deep attempt to Kittle which he clearly pushes off to get a correct OPI call, but would have given them a chance at a FG.
So many opportunities for the 49ers to at least get 3 points. All squandered. And this ends up biting them in the ass.
We go to halftime. I’ve grown to dread halftime shows. They’re all boring and canned. This time had one highlight for me, a snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir which then went into a Middle Eastern style dance song. Other than that, I thought Shakira and J-Lo looked great for a combined age of 93. And meh.
To be fair, meh is a step up for many halftime shows. Prince, who I’m not really a fan of, is clearly still the best one. He gave so much emotion and soul to that performance. Clearly not canned. Clearly a great musician doing his thing. Most of the time, they lack soul. As did this one.
Anyway, we get to the second half. The 49ers came out and ran the drive they should have at the end of the first half. Lots of easy passes to receivers schemed open. They get a FG and are back on top 13-10.
In this commercial break we get the best commercial of the evening in my opinion, the Sam Elliott dancing commercial. It started kind of dumb, at first, but then got really funny really fast. The horse shaking his head, declining to dance, was a great touch.
Mahomes was bad in the 3rd quarter. Not much you can do to suggest otherwise. He had a couple of moments to start this drive, but then Nick Bosa took over the game for a while. He ended up having 12 pressures which is a ton. On this drive he gets a strip sack which Mahomes was lucky to corral.
Whether that bothered Mahomes or not, the next play he threw an awful pass made worse by the coverage and got it picked off.
Then Garoppolo leads another drive, this time for a TD. The 49ers have now shown they can run and they can pass effectively. In these two drives, he’s 8-9, 97 yards. The Chiefs are out of whack at this point, but from now on, the 49ers will sustain almost no offense. One reason is better Chiefs defense, but another is that Shanahan didn’t take advantage of his run game enough.
Anyway, at this point Mahomes goes through a sequence of awful throws. Every one is off target, at least a little bit, even the ones that are completed. This drive concludes with an off-target pass not getting caught by the receiver, bouncing off his hands, and then a great catch by Moore to get the interception. Hill would say he should have caught it. Perhaps. However, the throw was well behind him and it should not have been that difficult of a catch. I remember thinking that there wasn’t a reason not to lead Watkins on the throw, no reason for Watkins to sit down on the route, no obvious miscommunication. Just a bad throw, and Moore makes Mahomes pay.
At this point, there’s 12 minutes left in the game and 49ers are up by 10. This high win probability territory. The 49ers could have slammed the door here.
I didn’t like the play calling here. They start well, getting a nice run to Mostert and a pass to Kittle. That’s when I thought they’d rely on the run for a bit (as did Aikman). Running is one of their strengths, after all.
Mostert got 1 on a run. I am not watching the replay, but I seem to recall this was a basic run. Either way, the next play is another pass. I don’t mind them throwing to Kittle here, but I would have preferred a good misdirection run, maybe even another Deebo sweep.
For that matter, early in the game, the use Deebo as a decoy on a play and never come back to him as the primary. This despite Deebo getting essentially free on the first play. This is the point of the game where you can put a stake in their heart and that’s exactly the time to take advantage of the plays that you highlighted from the first half. Why they didn’t, I’ll never know.
Anyway, so the Chiefs get the ball back at their 17 with 9 minutes and things are dicey. Mahomes is OK at the start of this drive, but not great. He makes the good decision to scramble. He throws an off-target pass that Hill catches. Then he throws an awful pass to Hill that gets overturned because Hill trapped it. Really bad throw to a wide open receiver.
Now is when the magic happens, and it’s all because the 49ers have a coverage breakdown. Mahomes connects with Hill for 44 yards. This was an awful throw, I thought. Hill had to wait for it and had Mahomes hit him in stride it’s a TD. I’d have to see the All-22 to confirm, but I think he was two beats too late on the throw and only an awful coverage scheme left Hill so wide open he could sit and wait on the throw.
Sometimes you just need a spark.
This was it, and Mahomes was much better after that. He throws a seam route that Moore (the defender who caught the tip interception) butchers on the coverage. It’s clear pass interference. He impedes the receiver and never gets his head around, so he wasn’t playing the ball. Obvious call.
First and goal at the 1 and the Chiefs score easily. 20-17 Chiefs and I said on Facebook: “Is the wind in the Chiefs’ sails?”
Spoiler Alert: It was.
First play of the ensuing 49ers drive is a 5yard run by Mostert. Derrick Nnadi makes a real good play to get off the block and I think it’s overlooked. Mostert had a huge gap after Nnadi and if he breaks through he’s going to get 15+. That makes a huge difference in the timing of the game here.
Anyway, the next play is a ball batted down by Chris Jones, who suddenly came alive. If he doesn’t, Kittle has 15 and again we’re talking about stake in the heart kind of time. Also, Deebo was wide open in the flat on that play. This play worked really well, in other words, but only a great defensive play stopped it.
The next play wasn’t as good. It was a pass, which isn’t bad on 3rd and 5, but I’d have been looking for one of my speed guys, Kittle, Deebo, Mostert, or Breida. The last one in particular was a mistake by Shanahan. Breida wasn’t targeted a single time in the game, and he’s a really nice player with great hands and a lot of speed. I am positive that Shanahan could have schemed one of them open instead of a contested throw to a backup TE.
This is a drive of wasted opportunities by the 49ers and just enough by the Chiefs to force a punt.
Here’s another subtle moment in the game. I criticized Hardman for taking the opening kickoff from deep out of the endzone. However, here he makes a great decision to fair catch the punt. As the punt was coming down, I thought he might have a lane, but the 49ers coverage closed the gap almost as the ball got there. Had Hardman been too aggressive and tries to run, I think only bad things happen for the Chiefs.
Anyway, this Mahomes finally on his game. His throws are on and 2:26 later Williams catches his pass for the TD. This is the questionable TD where we’re not sure if Williams breaks the plane or not. I *think* Williams broke the plane but it was close. A number of others said they thought he hadn’t, but it was close.
The referee called it a TD on the field. It was too close to criticize a ref for making a decision on the field. He called it a TD. No replay gave anything close to something that showed the actual result. Slow it down all you want, and it’s still “I think.”
And so, replay came back, rightfully, “Call Stands.” No matter what the ref on the field called, replay wasn’t going to overturn it. It’s a big thing, because otherwise it’s 4th and goal at the 2-inch line. I think Reid goes for it, so probably scores anyway. It’s irrelevant, though, and the Chiefs now up 24-20.
This is where the stupidity at the end of the first half really costs the 49ers. If it’s 24-23, then the 49ers have 2:44 with all 3 time outs to get into FG range. There’s no desperation. Also, they don’t *have* to succeed the first try. If they go three and out, with 3 TOs and the best defense in the NFL, they can reasonably expect to have another opportunity with something like 1:45 and 1 TO left.
In other words, the Chiefs would have had an advantage, but not a great one. Needing a TD changes that equation significantly, especially the time part at the end.
The 49ers get to midfield with 1:56 left to play. They then throw 3 incomplete passes. At this point, the still have 3 TOs. It’s 4th and 10. I believe it’s the right call to go for it here, but I didn’t like the play call.
I said in my notes before this drive the Chiefs should throw the house at Garoppolo. Even if the 49ers manage a long TD, the Chiefs offense would have had time with 3 TOs of their own to get into FG range. They didn’t, except on this play.
And I think Shanahan should have expected that. The throw he called took too much time. Again, I haven’t seen the All-22 to see the coverage, but I think he should have gone with a five steps and throw immediately sort of play. A fade to Deebo. A seam to Kittle. A wheel to Mostert. One of those sorts of things. They’re quick, take almost no time off the clock, and have a good chance if the defense is aggressive there.
Instead, Garoppolo is sacked and the Chiefs get it at the 42.
There’s an interesting sequence here. I don’t think I was completely correct on my math but I still think Williams makes a mistake here, albeit an understandable one.
Play 1, 1:25 on the clock: Williams runs for 4, 49ers take their first TO.
Play 2, 1:20 on the clock, Williams runs 38 yards for a TD.
Now, there is 1:12 left on the clock here. I think he should have downed himself at the 1 or 2 yard line.
By scoring, he gave the 49ers 1:12 with 2 TOs and a not inconsequential chance of a TD with a 2point conversion, an onsides kick, and a FG attempt. It’s not likely, but there’s a chance.
Also note how different that would have been with 3 points at the end of the first half.
Now consider if he goes down on the 1. This forces the 49ers to take a TO, so already you’ve depleted the 49ers chances. Let’s look at the following sequence.
Play 1: Chiefs kneel. 49ers take their last TO. There’s about 1:10 on the clock.
Play 2: Chiefs kneel. 49ers have no TOs. 40 seconds run off the clock, leaving about 30 seconds.
Play 3: Chiefs kneel, game over.
Yes, the Chiefs defense makes a great interception and they’re barely able to run out the clock, but even that was harder than it could have been because the 49ers had one more TO.
Williams going down at the 1 ends the game, period. By scoring, he extended it. Frankly, he ends the game by going down in bounds anywhere after getting the first down. The math is that simple.
Anyway, the Chiefs win and Andy Reid did a fantastic job. He pushed the action and depended upon Mahomes to be great. Mahomes wasn’t, for most of the game, but I think we all knew that he’d get on a streak at some point.
Shanahan was awful. He’s a great coach, but this game doesn’t show it. He consistently overthought things. He’ll do better next time, I have no doubt. I’d guess Reid’s experience from his previous Super Bowl appearance helped him a ton.
Williams was a good player in this game, but not great, I thought. I say that not even criticizing him too much for the last TD. Few players aren’t going to score there. Too much excitement.
He does end up with 2 TDs and over 100 yards on the ground, and there’s a case to be made for him to be MVP. This is especially true since Mahomes didn’t have a great game.
There’s been once in Super Bowl history where a losing player won the MVP. That happened in Super Bowl V with Dallas’s Chuck Howley. I think it should have happened here with Nick Bosa.
No other player dominated the game like him. He had those 12 pressures and a strip sack. However, he also dominated Eric Fisher time and again on running plays. He made the Chiefs work for everything start to finish.
The scary part is that he was a rookie this year and he’ll only get better. I’d be shocked at this point if he doesn’t have a Hall of Fame career. The only thing that will stop it will be injuries, so knock on wood because he’s a joy to watch… playing against anyone other than your team.
Congratulations to the Chiefs. I said in the FB thread: “I’m really happy for Reid. I’m sad for my stepdaughter, a big 49ers fan. I’m sad for me, because this city is going to be insufferable all year.”
Well, go be insufferable, your team earned you the right.
OK, that’s way too many words on this. Time for me to go make dinner then start a short story in the 4HU.