The San Francisco 49ers have come very close to winning the Super Bowl twice in the 21st century with their last victory coming in the 1994 season.
Their 2012 run came closest to capturing their Super Bowl magic with future Hall of Fame running back Frank Gore leading the offense in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. Trailing 34-29 with just under 4:30 left in the game, the 49ers had a chance to score the go-ahead field goal. Gore, who led all players on the night with 110 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, stymied San Francisco near the end zone, setting up a first down at the 7-yard line with 2:47 left. left to play.
Four plays came and went without Gore touching the ball again, as quarterback LaMichael James had a 2-yarder followed by three straight incompletions by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco came up 5 feet short. The Ravens prevailed 34-31 after getting a safety as a mechanism to burn time off the clock.
In 2019, against their current opponent the Kansas City Chiefs, they led 20-10 entering the final quarter, but the Chiefs outscored them 21-0 to secure the victory in Super LIV.
Here are their top three reasons why the 49ers could come out on top in the big game for a change.
3. Improved game management by Kyle Shanahan
The 49ers head coach is clearly an offensive savant. In the Super Bowl era since 1966, Shanahan’s offenses averaged the most yards per play (5.9) and yards per pass (8.1) of any head coach, the minimum 100 games as a head coach.
However, his game management for the vast majority of his tenure in charge of San Francisco since 2017 has been somewhat questionable. Entering this postseason, the 49ers were 0-31 down five or more points entering the fourth quarter. That was a situation they faced against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round, and they came back to win 24-21. They were also 0-19 down 17 or more points in the second half entering this postseason. The 49ers overcame that margin to win the NFC title game against the Detroit Lions 34-31.
Now he has just one more hurdle to overcome: managing his Super Bowl game. Shanahan has made the big game twice, once as the offensive coordinator of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons and as the head coach of the 2019 49ers. These teams combined to score ZERO points in the fourth quarter and/or overtime of those two games, while their opponents (2016 New England Patriots and 2019 Kansas City Chiefs) combined to score 46 points (Patriots 25, Chiefs 21 ). Shanahan led the Falcons by blowing their largest Super Bowl lead ever, 28-3 against the Patriots, and the 49ers by allowing a 20-10 fourth quarter lead to turn into a 31-20 Chiefs victory.
The game-changing issue for Shanahan to ever reach those upsides is clear: the lack of confidence in his run game. He called passing plays at a 2:1 ratio or higher on his offensive plays in both of those games. Atlanta suffered an eight-point second-and-11 in the final four minutes of their Super Bowl meltdown, which pushed them out of bounds and prevented them from going up by two with three minutes left. Playing. In the Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl, Shanahan threw 12 passes on just four runs after building a 28-3 lead. In the first 49ers-Chiefs Super Bowl, he threw 12 passes on five runs after building a 20-10 lead.
Shanahan’s coaching, like he did when he came back against the Packers and Lions and not like in past Super Bowls, will be a critical factor in the 49ers’ success.
2. Keeping WR Deebo Samuel involved throughout the game
Screens and yards after the catch have been favorites for the 49ers offense because of their array of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros in their offensive skill position groups. Quarterback Brock Purdy led the NFL in yards per screen pass (8.8), and San Francisco led the NFL with 28 games of 20 or more yards after the catch.
No one on the 49ers embodies the team’s explosiveness with the football in their hands quite like Deebo Samuel. He led all NFL wide receivers in yards per catch (8.8) this season, something he’s done four straight seasons. No other receiver has done that more than twice in the past 30 seasons. Samuel is the only player in the Super Bowl era with 4,000 or more receiving yards and 1,000 or more rushing yards in his first five seasons. He is also dynamic as a rusher as the previous stats show. He leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.3) since entering the league in 2019 among 129 players with at least 150 carries in that span.
The last time San Francisco lost a playoff game with a healthy quarterback was the 2021 NFC Championship Game, a 20-17 loss against the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers actually led 17-7 on the day, but they struggled to score in the fourth quarter as Samuel didn’t have a field goal or target in the final 12:30.
Deebo needs to be involved and dominant for the 49ers to beat Mahomes and the Chiefs.
He’s the best player in football, the 2023 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and the most important part of the 49ers’ offense. The NFL leader in rushing (1,459), scrimmage yards (2,023) and co-leader in touchdowns (21) earned Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro selections for his production this season.
He became just the fourth player since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger to lead the NFL in punts, meaning he topped the league’s championship leaderboard every week after the completion of the week 1. The other three players on this club are all Hall of Famers: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and OJ Simpson.
Wire-to-wire rushing titles since 1970
* Won NFL MVP that season
McCaffrey has continued this postseason, rushing for 90 or more yards and two or more touchdowns in each of San Francisco’s playoff wins against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. It won’t be easy against a Chiefs defense that limited the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens to a season-low in rushing yards (81) and carries (16) in the AFC Championship. However, they were mobile in the regular season, allowing 113.2 rushing yards per game, ranking just below average (18th) in the NFL.
If the 49ers win on Sunday, CMC would become the first rushing title winner to win a Super Bowl in the same season since Hall of Famer Terrell Davis did it with Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos in the 1998 season. Now, McCaffrey has chance to do the same with Mike’s son Kyle as his head coach and playmaker, and his team’s chance to win it all for the first time since the 1994 season depends on what he can do with his feet.