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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Is the 49ers' title window closed? Why this newest loss ought to have them questioning every part

LAS VEGAS — Given an opportunity to place the narrative that has surrounded them for a lot of the previous 5 years to relaxation, the San Francisco 49ers as an alternative funneled all of it right into a a lot bigger query after shedding to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LVIII:

If not now, when?

These battle-tested and scarred Niners were built to win the franchise’s long-awaited sixth Lombardi Trophy, they usually made daring strikes over the previous two years to do it. They traded four draft picks for operating again Christian McCaffrey. They gave $40 million guaranteed to sort out Javon Hargrave to assist plug a gap in the course of their protection. They usually discovered and developed 2022 seventh-round decide Brock Purdy, whom they steadfastly consider is their long-term reply at quarterback.

Even the travails of the past four years — a blown 10-point fourth-quarter result in Kansas Metropolis in Super Bowl LIV, an injury-ravaged 6-10 pandemic season and back-to-back disappointing losses within the NFC Championship Sport — had been seen contained in the partitions of the Niners’ facility as gas to strengthen their resolve.

As a substitute, the Chiefs stamped themselves because the league’s latest dynasty with a 25-22 overtime win for his or her third Tremendous Bowl title in 5 seasons, with the Niners on the depressing finish of two of them.

Sunday’s loss added yet one more devastating defeat to San Francisco’s ever-growing pile of them with seasons and championships on the road. Ray-Ray McCloud III‘s muffed punt, Jake Moody‘s blocked further level and Patrick Mahomes‘ late-game heroics despatched the Niners into one other offseason with the saltiest of tastes of their mouths.

These moments be a part of Michael Crabtree within the nook of the top zone in Super Bowl XLVIII and Tyreek Hill’s 44-yard catch within the waning moments of Super Bowl LIV because the indelible pictures of championships that obtained away.

“Yeah, I used to be speechless. Could not actually look anyone within the eye. Particularly all my teammates,” defensive finish Nick Bosa stated. “I might have executed extra. All people might have executed extra and there is actually not a lot to say at this level. It is going to damage, it may hit in waves, however that is life.”

The variety of years with out a title now sits at 29, a stunning period of time for a franchise that racked up 5 Lombardi Trophies in a 13-year span from 1981 to ’94, led by a few of the biggest gamers and coaches the game has recognized. San Francisco is the fifth staff in league historical past to lose three straight Tremendous Bowls, a streak that follows it successful in its first 5 appearances within the large recreation.

And now the Niners should deal with the current failure and the unknown of the longer term. The championship window for the roster’s veterans is likely to be shrinking forward of a looming 2025 payday for Purdy.

“The toughest factor is trying on the guys, the Ronnie Lotts, the Steve Youngs, the Joe Montanas, after we have not executed that,” common supervisor John Lynch stated. “As a result of these guys have had our backs, and we need to have theirs and they also know we’re preventing, however you bought to pay that off.

“If you wish to be nice, that is what you have to do. You have to bust via.”

IN THE AFTERMATH of this loss, loads of consideration can be paid to coach Kyle Shanahan, who has been on the shedding facet of the one two Tremendous Bowls to go to time beyond regulation. He has accomplished his seventh season as an NFL head coach and, at 44, has loads of time to complete the job.

But it surely’s tough to even get to the door of the Tremendous Bowl, not to mention to kick it down and stroll away with the Lombardi Trophy. Earlier than Shanahan obtained the 49ers to a pair of Tremendous Bowls in a four-year span, Jim Harbaugh restored San Francisco to contender standing.

From 2011 to ’13, Harbaugh led the Niners to the NFC Championship Sport each season, together with their first since 1997. In his second season, they reached their first Super Bowl since 1994.

Regardless of getting so shut so usually in 4 seasons in San Francisco — he left for the College of Michigan after the 2014 season — Harbaugh was unable to interrupt via.

“There isn’t any different sport as aggressive because the Nationwide Soccer League,” Harbaugh stated final week. “I dream about having one other crack at it.”

What’s tougher to simply accept is how difficult it’s to interrupt via when Superman is carrying the opposite staff’s jersey. For a few years, it was Montana who helped forestall Corridor of Famers similar to Dan Marino from getting a hoop. Tom Brady’s dominance over twenty years stored different greats similar to Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees from having greater than a solitary Tremendous Bowl title.

We’re now within the Patrick Mahomes period, the place groups should undergo Kansas Metropolis and its stellar quarterback to win a championship. It is one factor to have Tremendous Bowl expertise, however generally a staff may be nice at a nasty time.

All of which makes this newest loss even tougher for the Niners. They’re 0-4 in opposition to the Chiefs beneath Shanahan, with three of these losses coming by double digits. It is probably the most losses with out a win that San Francisco has had in opposition to any opponent beneath Shanahan. Even when the Niners get again so far, there’s an actual likelihood that Mahomes, Andy Reid & Co. can be ready.

“That is my second (Tremendous Bowl) as the top coach, however I believe while you go in opposition to guys like Tom Brady and Pat Mahomes, you higher by no means really feel snug with the lead,” Shanahan stated after Sunday’s loss. “These are two of the perfect gamers to ever play the sport. That is why when you might have a lead otherwise you’re down factors, these guys are all the time in it. You watch ’em on a regular basis try this stuff.”

Earlier than Sunday evening’s loss, the Shanahan and Reid comparisons had been already being made. Reid went to 5 NFC Championship Video games and a Tremendous Bowl in his 14 years as Philadelphia Eagles coach, then made 5 playoff appearances and an AFC Championship Sport in his first six seasons with the Chiefs earlier than getting his title in Tremendous Bowl LIV.

The label that got here with that was “greatest coach to by no means win a Tremendous Bowl.” The significance of getting over the hump is not misplaced on these in Shanahan’s orbit.

San Francisco cornerback Charvarius Ward was with Kansas Metropolis when Reid received his first title. Whereas he believes Shanahan is already on the identical degree as his former coach, he is aware of how a lot Shanahan desires to win all of it.

“[Shanahan] eats, sleeps and breathes soccer, too,” Ward stated earlier this week. “I believe that is going to solidify every part for him in his profession, getting that Tremendous Bowl ring. I really feel like that is the one factor he is lacking. … All people is aware of he is among the best minds in soccer.”

However the scars from these losses have a cumulative impact. Shanahan has stated he often wants no less than a month after the season to clear his thoughts and be able to get again after it, particularly following season-ending heartbreak.

It is a feeling Harbaugh can relate to. Even now, 11 years after shedding to the Baltimore Ravens in Tremendous Bowl XLVII, the injuries stay.

“I give it some thought every single day,” stated Harbaugh, who’s again within the NFL after he was hired as the coach of the Los Angeles Chargers in January. “What might we now have executed in another way on the finish? How might we get the ball in from the 5-yard line?

“It is vivid, and also you stroll off that subject going, ‘There will be different days,’ however that may’ve been the one day.”

AS THE 49ERS trudge into one other offseason, Shanahan may have little time to grieve. He and Lynch have to determine what they’ll do to shed the also-ran label.

The 2023 Niners will go down as one of the vital gifted groups in franchise historical past. However with out a Tremendous Bowl title, they’re in a difficult spot. Whereas they’ve most of their greatest stars beneath contract for subsequent season, the 49ers are $43.96 million over subsequent 12 months’s projected wage cap, based on ESPN’s Roster Administration System. And 2024 figures to be their final season with Purdy taking part in for peanuts on his rookie deal.

In 2025, Purdy can be eligible for an extension that seemingly will multiply his 2024 cap cost of $1.12 million as much as 50 occasions over. That might imply the Niners should make tough choices on a few of their high-priced veterans. It is why, getting into the 2023 season, logic suggests this may very well be a two-year window to win the Tremendous Bowl, no less than with the present core of veterans. York scoffs on the notion.

“While you speak about home windows, I simply assume that that is such a B.S. idea on this league,” York stated. “You by no means know when you are going to have the chance to be right here. It’s important to profit from it.”

Nonetheless, a few of that veteran core, similar to seventh-year tight finish George Kittle (two receptions for 4 yards on Sunday), have acknowledged the concept of a window and have made it clear that they should break via it as quickly as potential.

Among the many staff’s high offseason priorities can be signing emerging star wideout Brandon Aiyuk (three receptions for 49 yards), who’s getting into the ultimate season of his rookie contract, to a profitable extension, however the Niners additionally should plan for the longer term whereas attempting to make strikes to win a championship subsequent season. They will have to take a protracted have a look at their protection, the place they’ve invested large cash in a line that hasn’t been as dominant as hoped, an offensive line that — minus 35-year-old All-Professional left sort out Trent Williams — has usually struggled, and start planning for the longer term within the secondary.

“We have been so shut so many occasions that it is solely so many extra alternatives that we now have,” Bosa stated on Sunday. “We now have superb core of gamers which are going to be again and we now have to be higher.”

On Monday, because the 49ers took their 40-minute bus trip from their Henderson, Nevada, lodge to Allegiant Stadium for the NFL’s opening evening media occasion, Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner reminisced on their journey again to the Tremendous Bowl.

At one level, they in contrast notes on what number of members of their respective draft lessons remained on the roster. Warner realized that in 5 years, each different participant drafted with him is gone. Bosa had pleasure in the truth that, 4 years later, he had three draft classmates left.

The 2 greatest stars on the 49ers’ protection got here to the identical realization: A technique or one other, sweeping change comes for each staff. It is very true for a staff that, after attempting to run it again with the identical core, may want a extra aggressive upheaval to push it over the end line.

“We now have the staff clearly to do it, to win the entire thing and are available up quick like that. [That’s] the way in which issues have been the final couple of years right here,” Purdy stated. “Everybody wished it so unhealthy. So I believe we’re nonetheless attempting to kind of collect our ideas and every part proper now, however everybody within the locker loves one another. I will let you know that.”

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