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My Thoughts On Super Bowl 54

(originally written 2/6/20)

(1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters are abbreviated 1Q, 2Q, 3Q, 4Q)
Obviously, as my website is largely about sports, I had to chime in on Super Bowl LIV—after all, my 49ers were participating in it.  
I was supposed to write this blog the day after Kansas City's triumph, but instead, I've spent the past near 72 hours trying to decide upon an angle for it. Trying and failing, to be exact.
So instead, I'm just going to tear up my notes and speak from the heart, as LeBron James did in memory of Kobe Bryant last week.

This season, it seemed 49ers CB Richard Sherman was only targeted once or twice per game—all in all his 2019 performance was crucial in SF even getting to the Super Bowl. But he picked the worst time to make a bad play; it was he who got beat by WR Sammy Watkins to set up KC's go-ahead TD (and re-trigger Darrelle Revis' keyboard.)
Plus, he got badly juked by Tyreek Hill following a 1Q reception...things like that just didn't happen to Sherm this year.

My thoughts on the OPI against 49ers TE George Kittle:

By the letter of the law, Kittle's arm extension was illegal, I suppose.  And you're not allowed to do illegal things, I suppose. So the refs had to enforce it with a flag...I suppose.

My (and all of Niner Nation's) problem with the penalty: who doesn't do that? On every play, at least one receiver is extending his arm to gain a little separation from a defender. We may not be aware of that because said receiver isn't always thrown to; it just so happened Kittle was. didn't have to be called. I doubt Chiefs DB Daniel Sorenson would have argued much if it hadn't been called. Nothing else like it was called against either side for the rest of the game, but if you think it wasn't happening, I've got a talking fish from Europe I'd like to sell you. 

I'll stop short of blaming San Francisco's loss on the call; San Francisco lost because it couldn't chew up clock offensively or stay with KC defensively in that pivotal 4Q. But the call did cost the 49ers 40 yards and a possible score. And who knows how things shake out with those additional points on the board...

My thoughts on the QB play:

Heading into the 4Q, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't great, but he was effective, completing 17 of his first 20 passes despite being regularly blitzed and hit from pretty much the beginning. What bothered me most about his play is tied to a shortcoming spewed by his critics from the moment he was acquired.
It wasn't the early interception or near interception.
It wasn't the 4Q struggles.
It wasn't his decision-making when under pressure.
It was all the batted passes by KC linemen.

When breaking down Garoppolo's strengths and weaknesses, it always came back to his pedestrian height (6'0"...hmm, maybe I shouldn't have used the term "shortcoming"). 
Sure, Drew Brees (for example) has excelled without being particularly tall, and Russell Wilson is off to a fine start to his career. But how many dudes have that kind of talent? Garoppolo has proven he cannot do what they do, which isn't a knock on him—few can do what Brees and Wilson do.
Garoppolo doesn't have great height, and he isn't all that nimble in the pocket (less so after a major knee injury). So he's going to spend his whole career throwing over the top of defensive lines...or at least trying to. Despite all the pressure and hits, KC only sacked Garoppolo once in the Super Bowl, but having so many passes swatted back in his face was almost equally deflating.

As for his KC counterpart Pat Mahomes...good for him, he played well for the most part. But he just didn't feel like a Super Bowl MVP to me. Mahomes' 286 passing yards were the fewest by a Super Bowl MVP QB since Eli Manning's first victory, and he was just 26-of-42 with two picks vs. two touchdowns (one of them a little toss that barely counts as a pass). He did also rush for a TD, but at no time did I feel Mahomes was picking the 49ers apart, not even in that wretched 4Q.

In recent years they've almost always given the award to the winning quarterback, but unlike the regular season MVP award, it is not uncommon for a wideout to take the prize. Hill's numbers and impact matched that of past SB MVP winners, but I'm guessing nobody wanted to ask somebody like Tyreek Hill if he'd be going to Disneyland. 

A case could be made for RB Damien Williams, who scored two touchdowns, including the backbreaker near game's end. But ultimately, the star quarterback won out. Since his much-hyped arrival, I keep waiting for Mahomes to do or say something to make me not like him—he's got youth, talent and success, which has to make him a jerk, right?
But so far he's shown himself to be a solid individual. Even after winning the Super Bowl, I only heard Mahomes saying all the right things. He even shouted out to Alex Smith (his predecessor as Chiefs QB). 

My thoughts on the running game and Coach Kyle:

Chew on this: Of the 20 touches between SF RB's Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson, four came in the 4Q when SF held a lead and needed to eat up some clock. All three had been effective during the game, despite KC's loaded box. All three were seemingly healthy. The game was still close.

At one point late, with SF still down just FOUR points, Garoppolo was asked to pass on six consecutive plays (he fired off five, was sacked once, but was hit just about each time). That streak could and should have been broken up by a couple of runs, even with the clock winding down there were still timeouts and the two-minute warning available. Garoppolo was being asked to be the Super Bowl hero two weeks after throwing eight passes.

49ers HC Kyle Shanahan has more football knowledge in his pubic hair than I've accumulated in my entire question. He obviously saw (or didn't see) something that inspired him to call so few runs down the stretch. I know he didn't forget what beat Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago. Perhaps he wanted to shut up Garoppolo's many critics. Perhaps he was convinced KC was zeroing in on the run. Perhaps one of the Chiefs defenders was being mean to Coleman, who never saw the ball in the 4Q.

Shanahan said he was more concerned with getting first downs in the 4Q than running the ball. Which would make sense, except, well, the Mostert/Coleman tandem has been pretty damn good at getting first downs on the ground throughout 2020. They've been hot, and Shanahan got away from the hot hand. 
While I might forgive him for that, I—and each of the 49er fans I watched the game with—will not forgive his clock management at the end of the first half. "Didn't want to give the Chiefs the ball back?" Sorry, but that's as weak as an excuse for an obvious blunder as I've heard in some time.
Despite that...still love ya, Coach Shanahan.

My thoughts on the outcome:

I will always wonder what if that flag hadn't been thrown on Kittle...what if SF could have recovered either of Mahomes' two fumbles...what if the D had stayed with Hill on that infamous 44-yard catch on 3rd-and-15 or with Watkins on his late 37-yarder...what if SF DB Tarvarius Moore hadn't been flagged for DPI in the end zone in the 4Q...what if SF had run the ball a bit more in the 4Q...what if SF KR Richie James had given SF anything.

Placating the parity fan in me: if my Niners had to lose, at least it was to a club fighting a championship drought even longer than ours (50 years to 25). And it was to a head coach (Andy Reid) who, by all accounts, deserved it. He's definitely getting a bust in Canton now that the final box on his career achievement list has been checked.

I suppose I'd be angrier and/or sadder about the SB loss if the Niners were expected to get that far, as the Chiefs were. San Francisco, remember, was 4-12 in 2018, and their QB was coming off major knee surgery. An 8-8 finish might have been considered a success. Anything after that, SF was playing with house money.
As I've told anyone who would listen, I knew after their 2-0 start they were going to the Super Bowl. Don't ask me HOW I knew. It wasn't blind faith or the bold rumblings of an irrational fan. I. JUST. KNEW. 

This team was special from the very beginning. We saw it when they drubbed the Browns on Monday Night Football, when they beat up the Packers the first time, when they finally ended their winless drought in Seattle. Too many defensive players were having great years. Too many injuries that should have set SF back did not, at least not enough to result in losses.

Furthermore, I can't remember when a 49er draft class last performed so well top-to-bottom. CAN a #2 overall pick be a steal? We knew DT Nick Bosa would be good, but he torpedoed past "good" about three weeks in. LB Dre Greenlaw stepped up as the year went on, and WR Deebo Samuel was an impact player catching and running the ball, including in the Super Bowl.

I am going to stop short of predictions next year (a.k.a. quitting while I'm ahead). Besides, the road to the Super Bowl will be much harder for SF in 2020 now that a big fat target is on their backs. Seattle will be heard from again. The Rams could reload and find their way. And those are just the division foes; Green Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans and a few others still pose threats in the NFC.

All that said, it was a great year full of great memories. We'll never forget Bosa sliding across the muddy turf in Washington, or Sherman's pick-and-team-pose against the Panthers. Even if he ends up as a lowly shoe salesman, Mostert will be telling his kids about his four touchdowns in one game against Green Bay for the next 50 years...and so will we.

49ers until the day I die.
See you at training camp.

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