Kansas City turned Watson’s recovery into a 16-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and the momentum shifted immediately. The 49ers did plenty of good things, including the efficient play of quarterback Brock Purdy and the inspired effort of a defense that harassed Mahomes throughout the first half. That also is the narrative that Shanahan’s teams must be tired of living: Finishing simply isn’t something they know how to do well in championship games.
This was supposed to be a year of redemption after the 49ers lost in last year’s NFC Championship Game after Purdy sustained an elbow injury. It turned out to be one more painful reminder of how snakebit they can be in these moments.
“A lot of guys are quiet and are still quiet right now,” said Purdy, when asked about the mood in the locker room after the game. “Not a lot has been said. It just hurts. You want to do this all year and to come up short like that, it’s tough. After what we’ve gone through the last couple years, everybody wanted it so bad. We’re still trying to gather our thoughts right now.”
Purdy’s presence gave Shanahan his best opportunity to win a championship with this current team. The second-year quarterback played at an MVP-caliber level throughout the season and became everything the coach needed in his high-powered offense. The 49ers knew the Chiefs presented a daunting challenge because of how well Kansas City’s defense had performed throughout the season. A major factor in this game was going to be how Shanahan found ways to attack everything that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could throw at his team.
Purdy answered the call for the most part. He missed a couple potential touchdown passes, but that had more to do with the Chiefs pressuring him to the point that he had to throw early. That was clearly the problem when Purdy missed wide receiver Jauan Jennings in the end zone in overtime. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones harassed Purdy just enough that the ball floated over the head of the wide-open receiver and resulted in a Jake Moody field goal.
It was Mahomes’ time after that. He drove his team 75 yards on 13 plays and hit Mecole Hardman for a 3-yard touchdown pass that won the game. It was another vintage moment for Mahomes, who earned his third Super Bowl MVP award in the win. He was the same guy who led the Chiefs to 21 fourth-quarter points in that victory over San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV.
That is the other reality for Shanahan: Sometimes timing doesn’t work in your favor. That loss to the Falcons came against Tom Brady, and Mahomes has burned the coach twice. As Shanahan acknowledged after the game, he knew his offense had to be mindful of how brilliant Mahomes can be in high-pressure moments. That was a critical determinant in Shanahan calling a successful pass play to tight end George Kittle on a fourth-and-3 from the Chiefs’ 15-yard line early in the fourth quarter.