Santoro: Super Bowl has become a 49ers’ nightmare

Chiefs safety Justin Reid (20) stops 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) during the second half of the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Chiefs safety Justin Reid (20) stops 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) during the second half of the Super Bowl on Sunday.
George Walker IV | AP

Sports Fodder:

The Super Bowl used to be San Francisco 49ers nirvana. It was 49er perfection. The 49ers at one point were an unblemished 5-0 in Super Bowls. It was one immaculate Bill Walsh decision, Joe Montana and Steve Young touchdown pass, Roger Craig and Ricky Watters touchdown run, Jerry Rice and John Taylor touchdown catch and Ray Wersching extra point and field goal after another.

The 49ers owned the Super Bowl. They were the first to five Super Bowl titles. Now they are well on their way to becoming the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings after losing three in a row.

The Super Bowl now for 49ers fans is one Patrick Mahomes nightmare, one Colin Kaepernick incomplete pass into the end zone and one peek at Taylor Swift in her stadium suite after another.

Make it stop.

The Super Bowl for 49er fans used to be better than going to Disneyland as a 5-year-old, posing for a picture with Mickey Mouse and getting a hug and autograph from the most famous mouse on earth. It was fantasy come to life. Now it’s like going to Disneyland as a 55-year-old and seeing the guy in the Mickey suit smoking a cigarette and guzzling a Bud Light going around in circles on the teacup ride.


You can blame Kyle Shanahan’s decision to take the ball first in overtime for the gut-wrenching 25-22 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. You can blame Brock Purdy for not being Joe Montana, after all. You can blame Jake Moody for missing an extra point. And go ahead and blame the defense for melting down at the end of regulation and in overtime.

But the biggest blame has to go to the muffed punt near the end of the third quarter. If that bit of stupidity doesn’t happen, the 49ers win easily in regulation. High school special teams coaches and players cringed and laughed at that play. The two pickleball babies on the E-Trade Super Bowl commercial could have done a better job on that punt return.

How does that happen in a Super Bowl? How does it ever happen? The media made a big deal about the 49er players not knowing the overtime rules. That had nothing to do with the loss.

Not knowing what to do (or what not to do) on a punt return was the reason the 49ers lost.


Darrell Luter Jr., the clueless 49er who had the punt hit him in the foot, and Ray-Ray McCloud, the 49er who thought the ball was a basketball waiting to be dribbled, lost that Super Bowl.

McCloud, a sixth-round pick with his fourth team in six years, was on injured reserve a month ago and only activated on Jan. 9. Luter, a fifth-round rookie out of South Alabama, was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Nov. 18. But there they were, acting like two 10-year-olds in their first Pop Warner game trying to return a punt.

All they had to do was run into the stands and hide when the ball was punted by the Chiefs’ Tommy Townsend and the 49ers would be six-time Super Bowl champs right now.

The 49ers were up 10-6 with two-plus minutes left in the third quarter. The Chiefs had not sniffed the end zone all game long on offense. Without that muffed punt the Chiefs likely never would have scored a touchdown in regulation. They, at the very least, probably wouldn’t have had enough time to kick a tying field goal with three seconds left in regulation.

It was one of the most costly Super Bowl blunders in the history of the game.


The 49ers can clearly win a Super Bowl with Brock Purdy. We saw that on Sunday. Purdy made some amazing throws, completed 23-of-38 passes for 255 yards and a score, and was not at all overwhelmed by the moment.

But winning a Super Bowl with a quarterback is not the same as winning one because of the quarterback. We also saw that on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes won that Super Bowl. He was 34-of-46 for 333 yards and two scores. He was 8-of-8 on the game-winning drive.

Mahomes is Joe Montana and Steve Young combined. Purdy is more Jimmy Garoppolo and Steve DeBerg (on their good days) than he is Montana and Young. He’s good, an elite leader and one of the best in the NFL. And he certainly didn’t lose the Super Bowl.

But he didn’t grab it by the collar, shake it and win it, either. The guy doing the Joe Montana impression did that.


Nobody was on an emotional rollercoaster on Sunday more than 49ers’ kicker Jake Moody. Yes, even more than Taylor Swift.

Moody owned the Super Bowl record for the longest field goal after he kicked a 55-yarder for a 3-0 lead in the second quarter. The record, though, lasted less than two quarters when the Chiefs’ Harrison Butker kicked a 57-yarder in the third quarter.

Moody, who used to kick for former 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, also saw one of his extra points blocked, a point that would have given the 49ers a pivotal four-point lead in regulation. But he also kicked a 53-yard field goal with 1:53 left that almost won the game.

It’s not the first time special teams ruined a potential 49ers’ Super Bowl celebration. Jacoby Jones of the Baltimore Ravens returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown and a 28-6 lead in an eventual 34-31 Super Bowl win over the 49ers after the 2012 season.

Everyone always wants to blame the head coach or the quarterback for a Super Bowl loss. But sometimes it's just an offensive lineman who misses a block on an extra point or a fifth-round pick out of South Alabama who thinks a punt return should be kicked like a soccer ball or a sixth-round pick who thinks that football on that same punt return should be dribbled like a basketball.


Is Kyle Shanahan jinxed? Is he just Dan Campbell with a better playbook?

The 49ers head coach was the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. He was the 49ers head coach who blew a 20-10 lead against Mahomes and the Chiefs four years ago in the final six-plus minutes and he blew leads of 10-0, 16-13 and 19-16 in regulation and 22-19 in overtime on Sunday.

He’s been in three Super Bowls and has trailed for just a combined 13 minutes or so in those three games (two went to overtime) and lost them all.

And now he’s being called a choker. Well, stop it.

Shanahan’s only Super Bowl sin is that he’s lost to two of the greatest Super Bowl quarterbacks in history in Brady and Mahomes.

Shanahan was close to being labeled a genius on Sunday with a victory. He had faith and courage in Moody to kick a 53-yard field goal in a tie game (16-16) with 1:53 to go in regulation when a miss would have given Mahomes and the Chiefs a very short field.

Shanahan called one of the wildest plays in Super Bowl history, the 21-yard Jauan Jennings wide receiver pass to Christian McCaffery for a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. That also takes tremendous faith and courage. 

You know what also takes great faith and courage? You draft a quarterback with the final pick in the draft and the very next year you coach him to a Super Bowl and lead in overtime in that same Super Bowl.

Shanahan did far more great things on Sunday than he made mistakes. His only mistake on Sunday was having tremendous faith and courage to believe in his defense with the game on the line.


Brandon Aiyuk was clearly not used correctly in the Super Bowl. The McQueen High graduate was targeted just six times and caught just three passes for 49 yards.

It was the most yards by any 49er tight end or wide receiver on Sunday. But he was a 100-yard, two-touchdown performance waiting to happen just the same. He beat his defender down the middle and was open for a touchdown, but Purdy missed him.

Aiyuk wrote on social media after the game, “Don’t forget what got you there,” reminding the 49ers that his 75 catches for 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns were a big reason why the 49ers were in Las Vegas on Sunday in the first place.

Aiyuk’s brother also went on social media after the game and wrote, “This is the exact reason why we are leaving San Francisco. Why does your All Pro 1,300-yard receiver have three catches in the Super Bowl?”

Aiyuk’s girlfriend also posted on social media that Brandon might have played his last game with the 49ers. Aiyuk, his brother and girlfriend might have a point.

Instead of feeding the ball to Aiyuk the 49ers were determined to force the ball to Deebo Samuel all game long. Samuel, who has been banged up for much of the last two seasons, was targeted 13 times and caught just three passes for 33 yards.

The vast majority of Purdy’s 15 incompletions were on passes intended for Samuel. Aiyuk, for the most part, was an afterthought.

Maybe someone should have shown a replay on the scoreboard of Aiyuk making one of the greatest catches in 49ers postseason history in the NFC title game against Detroit. Or maybe Aiyuk just needs to find a new girlfriend.

Taylor Swift, after all, got her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, nine catches in the Super Bowl.


Will Mahomes catch Tom Brady and win at least seven Super Bowls? Why not? He’s only 28-years-old and has been in the NFL just seven seasons (six as a starter) and already has won three.

It took Brady 21 years (20 as a starter) to win seven Super Bowls and he was 43 when he won his seventh. Mahomes might have seven by the time he’s 35. He might have a dozen by the time he’s 43.

But don’t underestimate how much Andy Reid has meant to Mahomes. Would Mahomes have any Super Bowl victories right now if Reid wasn’t his coach?

Mahomes, no question, is an incredible talent. But talent alone doesn’t win Super Bowls. Reid is the guy calling the plays for Mahomes. Reid is the guy who keeps the emotional Mahomes focused and under control. Reid is the guy who gives Mahomes the right plays at the right time. Reid is the guy who knows exactly what his quarterback can do and when he can do it.

The only question, therefore, seems to be whether or not Reid will remain the head coach long enough for Mahomes to win seven or more Super Bowls. Reid, who will be 66 in March, can certainly coach seven or eight more years. That should get Mahomes to seven or eight titles.


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