49ers Fallout: Anatomy Of A Brutal Loss

By Rob Ward

Your old mate Wardy returns, sombre if not yet fully sober, to give an emotional breakdown of his beloved San Francisco 49ers – and where a second Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs in five years leaves this historic franchise:

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If that blissful five seconds of first consciousness that follows an epic night out could be bottled and sold, a fortune would be made fast.

But the comfort of the bedsheets and the fulfilment of an evening well spent soon makes way for dawning realisation. I feel sick, I’m quite possibly still drunk and, on this occasion, an overwhelming thought haunts me.

My team just lost the Super Bowl in brutal, heart-breaking fashion.

The horror comes in waves. McCaffrey’s fumble on the first drive. Relentless penalties on the second drive. The blocked extra point. The missed slant. Chris Jones going unblocked on 3rd & 4. Most of all, the muffed punt. The damn muffed punt.

You replay those moments, picturing a different outcome. Sometimes the alcohol still rolling through your system can trick your mind into believing an alternate reality. The Mandela Effect. Surely the offensive player of the year didn’t lose the football deep in Chiefs territory. Surely, we punished them for their turnovers. Surely this time the great Kyle Shanahan had the moment his genius so richly deserves. Surely they didn’t muff that damn punt.

Maybe I think about something else. Go for a walk. Set some rules for myself. Avoid NFL related podcasts, avoid Wattsapp groups, avoid Twitter (yes Elon, I’m still calling it that, you can do one!). We’re early in the evolution of grief. We’re still at the denial stage. Maybe anger will hit soon. Make no mistake, this article is purely self-indulgent. It is catharsis. Part of the healing process. If schadenfreude is your thing, then tuck in. Any entertainment you take from this is because you, like me and so many others, find the psychological processing of sporting loss to be fascinating. You’re also a sick bastard.

I replay the night in my head. Closing the second quarter with only a seven-point lead. Not taking those opportunities. I couldn’t watch the Half Time show knowing the creeping inevitability of Full Time (or in his case overtime) was going to be so painful. I queued at the bar for a double and mixer, I drained a disposable vape until the blue light flashed and regretted quitting smoking. Deep down, I think I knew. I vaguely remember feeling the need to run the ball more – later confirmed by a 2am text sent to a good mate demanding more CMC – but I check the box score and note CMC had 22 rushing attempts. It was just a workmanlike offensive effort. Credit, for sure, is due to Spags and his defense for once again playing huge in huge moments. The run game was mostly contained, the star pass catchers were invisible throughout. When Purdy made plays it was to Jauan Jennings and Chris Conley.

Ultimately, there is no sugar coating this. The San Francisco 49ers inability to kill off a Kansas City Chiefs team who were there for the taking is a missed opportunity for the ages. You can’t give greatness the chance to be great. You can’t let Mahomes back in this game. And man, you just can’t muff that punt! The Chiefs offense was non-existent until that point. Suddenly they had life. The much-maligned 9ers defense – even after losing Dre Greenlaw to a bizarre injury running out onto the field – was back to its former self for most of this game, but could not get that crucial stop, either with 2 minutes to play in regulation or for one last drive in overtime. When 15 is leading his team down the field at the end of the game with a chance to win or tie, you know you’re cooked.

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Such has been the 9ers excellence in the NFC over the past five years we can overlook just how hard winning is in the NFL. It is a league designed by its very genetics to rotate opportunity. Or, at least, it was. But the 9ers have climbed up the mountain for four of the last five years, headed to the peak in two of those, only to find a rival flag planted in the ground. There are no guarantees from here. This felt like the moment. It passed them by. They succumbed to a repeat champion and the greatest quarterback of all time playing with the league’s best defense. There is no shame in that, but there is a lot of pain. Simply put, losing sucks.

What now, for this team? The damage in terms of personnel is not too great. The list of free agents is headlined by Javon Kinlaw, who has improved this season for sure but overall has disappointed as a first round pick, and Chase Young, whose impressive Super Bowl showing hides the fact he’s been useless for most of his time in the Bay Area. The stars will return, another year older, battle worn and mentally bruised. We talk a lot in sport about the intangibles. We just don’t know how much a defeat like this will linger.

On Brock Purdy (because let’s face it, we’re obliged to have that chat) he did what he does. Made some big throws, missed some throws, he remains a very good quarterback in an elite offensive system, and he remains on a rookie deal. He went toe to toe with an all-time great and nearly – nearly! – got over the line. He’ll be back, but can he lead them back?

One thought to close out. Why does it matter so much? Why does a guy from Liverpool care so deeply about a team to which he has no familial or geographic ties? No answers on that one I’m afraid. Sure, I’m one of those guys who, when they invest, they invest all the way. But there must be more to it than that. Perhaps if you’re reading this you feel the same way. Perhaps you know. I have to take my medicine. What makes sport great is this feeling right now, as totally perverse as that feels right now.  I’m well aware there is a lot of privilege that comes with bemoaning a Super Bowl loss, let alone a second in five years. Some fans never get that feeling. It’s been a hell of a ride supporting these San Francisco 49ers in the Shanahan era, the perfect tonic to being an Everton fan! Sport only ever gives us one winner and so long as Patrick Mahomes is around, like Tom Brady before him, it’s just a case of bad timing for the rest.

All that said, as the reflection goes on this week, and the stages of grief are worked through, you know where I’m going to end up. It’s perhaps the most damaging place of all.

Maybe next year?

Feature Image Credit: Kent Porter / The Press Democrat

Rob Ward


NFL/Fantasy Football Enthusiast