What Could the 49ers Have Done Differently in Super Bowl LVIII?

By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter/X: @FBGarbageTime

Clearly, Patrick Mahomes is amazing.

The 49ers defense kept him in check for most of the game, but he came through in the clutch twice, once to get the field goal to put them in overtime and next to get the go ahead touchdown in overtime for the win, with about a third of his passing yards (115 of 333) coming in those two drives alone.  And believe it or not, Mahomes was also the Chiefs leading rusher with 66 yards on 9 carries.  After the game, Mahomes was already talking about how “legendary” it would be to “three-peat” and who could blame him about thinking about Super Bowl LIX after putting the Chiefs on his back (with an assist from Chris Jones and the defense) to win Super Bowl LVIII.

The 49ers played a complete game and came up just short of bringing back the Lombardi to the bay.  That being said, there were a few things that the 49ers probably could have done differently, that might have changed the way things ended for them.

The first thing they could have done differently would have been to run the ball on 3rd & 5 with 2 minutes left in the game instead of attempting a pass that ultimately ended up incomplete in the face of pass pressure.  If the 49ers didn’t get the first down on the run (and I’ve said until I was blue in the face that using the NFL’s leading rusher in Christian McCaffrey against the Chiefs 17th ranked run defense was the key to victory for the 49ers), chances are that Kansas City would not have called a time out since they only had 2 left, meaning the 49ers could kick a field goal to take the lead with around 1:20 left.  One could debate whether running out the clock some more with a squib on the kickoff would be worth trying to milk another 10-20 seconds, but either way, less time always makes things harder for a team trying to score under pressure.  Remember that Mahomes had 1:53 when he got the ball and got within safe field goal range with only 21 seconds left.  Would he make it to safe field goal range if he got the ball with only 1:00  to 1:20 left?  Probably, but it would have been a lot more difficult.  And if 49ers managed to get the first down with the run, they would have had the chance to essentially run the clock out for the win.

The second thing they could have done differently is deferred taking the ball on offense in overtime after winning the coin toss.  Yes, conventional wisdom in NFL overtime situations is to take the ball first if you can, because a touchdown wins the game giving you zero overtime possessions (just ask Josh Allen how he felt about that in the AFC Championship game two years ago).  But the overtime rules for the Super Bowl are different now in that both teams get full possessions, regardless of whether the team with the initial possession scores a field goal or touchdown or punts.  So going second in this scenario is a huge advantage because you know exactly what you need to win or tie the game.

Imagine if the possessions in Super Bowl LVIII overtime were flipped and the Chiefs got the touchdown on the opening possession.  Then if the 49ers had been down to 4th down and 4 to go on the Kansas City 9 yard line, they’d know they had to go for it rather than kick a field goal.  Heck, fourth down would be in play the entire drive as it would be a do-or-die situation, there’s no option to punt.  That completely changes your play calling and also gives you an extra down to work with.  Plus, if the 49ers had forced a Chiefs punt, they could have had a shorter field to work with for a walk-off field goal.  But that’s not how it worked out.  After the game, some of the 49ers players admitted they didn’t even know the overtime rules were different from the regular season.  Apparently, Kyle Shanahan did know the rules and thought it was advantageous to receive first anyway.  I’m not going to say he was wrong, but there certainly appears to be more reasons to defer.  And with that, Shanahan is now the only coach to lose two Super Bowls in overtime.

Guess there’s always next year.