49ers' defense left searching for answers after Super Bowl collapse

49ers' defense left searching for answers after Super Bowl collapse

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- When Patrick Mahomes’ pass early in the fourth quarter clanged off the hands of Tyreek Hill and into the grasp of 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore, it felt like the final nail in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV coffin at Hard Rock Stadium.

The 49ers held a 20-10 lead, their defense had asserted its dominance in the third quarter and now Mahomes was looking like a deer in headlights. 

This was, for all intents and purposes, a wrap. There would be no miracle Chiefs comeback with how Mahomes was playing. There were no gaps in the defense to be found. No weaknesses to exploit.

But then, out of nowhere a switch flipped.

After the Chiefs got the ball back, Mahomes hit Hill for 44 yards on third-and-15. Four plays later, he found Travis Kelce for a 1-yard touchdown.

Following a 49ers three-and-out, Mahomes marched 65 yards in seven plays, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Damien Williams. The score gave the Chiefs a lead they would not relinquish.

Final: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20.

The 49ers’ defense -- shocked and dejected after allowing the Chiefs to score a Super Bowl record 21 fourth-quarter points -- was left searching for answers while trying -- and somewhat failing -- not to point fingers.

“It was just mistakes -- self-inflicted,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Just individual. It is on everybody.”

Nick Bosa, who spent most of the night whipping tackle Eric Fisher, didn’t have an answer for why the Chiefs finally were able to connect on the big plays in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know. I don’t play in the back end.” Bosa said.

After scoring a rushing touchdown in the first quarter, the 49ers made Mahomes look average during the middle of the game. At one point, he had a worse passer rating than Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff posted in last year’s Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

The NFL’s Superman had met his kryptonite in a physical defense with the speed to contain the Chiefs playmakers from sideline to sideline and the willingness to hit him over and over.

“He started feeling pressure and started throwing up ducks,” 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “We got two picks. He started feeling the pressure.”

As Superman always does, he finds a way to take the kryptonite off his chest before the killing blow can be delivered.

“I was just trying to fight, and obviously, the third quarter didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” Mahomes, who was named game MVP, said. “I tried to force some things and had some turnovers. I mean, that’s a really good defense, a really good defense, and so I didn’t play to my liking in that third quarter and the guys believed in me and gave me confidence.”

[RELATED: Jimmy G misses Super Bowl hero moment on late overthrow]

The 49ers knew the Chiefs were a resilient group. Mahomes erased a 24-point deficit against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, and a 10-point hole against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game.

But to score 21 unanswered against this defense, in this moment, was a stunning show of force and talent that only the all-time greats possess.

The 49ers had the championship in their grasp. It took eight minutes for everything to fall apart.

They went from entering the conversation of best all-time defense to being a footnote in the story of Patrick Mahomes.

Now all they can do is ask: What happened?

49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

49ers' Kendrick Bourne implores Matt Breida to re-sign for 2020 season

Kendrick Bourne wants Matt Breida to follow in his footsteps.

The 49ers wide receiver signed his one-year tender Monday, ensuring he would return for the 2020 season. San Francisco placed second-round tenders on Bourne and Breida last month, and Bourne encouraged Breida to sign his, too.

Bourne and Breida joined the 49ers as undrafted free agents in 2017. The 24-year-old receiver scored a career-high five touchdowns in the 2019 regular season and caught 30 passes for 358 yards.

[RELATED: Why Jeudy could be just what 49ers want in 2020 NFL Draft]

Breida, meanwhile, largely lost his role in the 49ers offense by the end of the 2019 season. He ran a career-high 153 times for 814 yards in 2018, but Breida ran for nearly 200 fewer yards in 2019 as the running back ended the season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman on the 49ers’ depth chart. Jerick McKinnon’s return could further crowd Breida out.

Bourne has been with Breida every step of their NFL careers, however, and he wants the running back to once again be his teammate this season.

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

2020 NFL Draft profile: Why Alabama's Jerry Jeudy is what 49ers need

Editor's Note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment, we profile Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Top NFL draft prospect Jerry Jeudy could be exactly what 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has been looking for. 

Shanahan has remained steadfast in his belief that you don’t have to be the biggest or fastest wide receiver to be the most effective and productive. There are several other qualities that remain higher on Shanahan’s list, and it appears that Jeudy checks most, if not all, of those boxes. 

Michael Locksley, Jeudy’s coach and offensive coordinator during the receiver's first two seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide, spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about the receiver’s unique talents.

[RELATED: Latest Mock: 49ers don't get Jeudy]

“Can’t say enough about his ability as a route-runner,” Locksley said. “I think with Jerry, it’s his ability and suddenness he has to get in and out of a break, whether it’s working back toward the ball which is the toughest breaks that receivers make, when they’re working back toward the quarterback.

“He has the ability to be full speed and drop his weight – or, as we say, sink his hips -- to stop on a dime, and he always gives the illusion of speed always at the top of the route but is able, without taking the little small steps you see people normally have to take to put his foot in the ground and change direction.”

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Leigh Steinberg of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, who represents Jeudy, was equally impressed by his client’s route running. 

“He might be the best route runner that I’ve ever seen in college in my 40 years,” Steinberg told NBC Sport Bay Area. “He runs the most precise routes. He’s also very smart.” 

With precise route running and the ability to change direction on a dime, Jeudy is able to get separation, which Shanahan has repeatedly said is one of the most important aspects to being a receiver. 

Another trait that Shanahan looks for was exemplified by All-Pro tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel throughout 2019: Gaining yards after the catch. 

“Tremendous run-after catch ability,” Locksley said of the Alabama receiver. “He is such a loose-limbed, loose-body guy. You watch him and his ability to make people miss is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Steinberg noted that Jeudy has impressed him off the field as well, most notably when the Alabama star met Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice while in Miami for Super Bowl LIV. 

“The most impressive thing I’ve seen from him was how he interacted with Hall of Fame receivers while in Miami for the Super Bowl,” Steinberg said. “He asked Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and Cris Carter what their secrets to longevity were. He’s bright enough to use his time with the best, to enhance his own performance.”

[RELATED: Simms: Jeudy not loved by all teams]

Jeudy was extremely productive in his three seasons at Alabama, catching 159 passes for 2,742 yards, 26 touchdowns and an average of 17.2 yards per catch. It is inevitable that he is a player that will have an impact on a team's offense. What the 49ers will do with the No. 13 overall selection in the draft, however, is much less certain.

NFL draft profile: Jerry Jeudy

Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 193 pounds
College: Alabama
Career stats: 159 catches for 2,742 yards and 26 touchdowns

Combine measurables
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds (11th among wide receiver class)
Vertical jump: 35.0 inches
Broad jump: 120.0 inches
20-yard shuttle: 4.53 seconds

What experts are saying
Mel Kiper, ESPN: “Jerry Jeudy is a precise kid, running routes, first out of his break. Reminds me a lot of Marvin Harrison.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: “I think he’s one of the best five players in the entire draft.”
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media: "Bama WR Jerry Jeudy = smooth operator. He’s such an easy mover. Reminds me a little of Robert Woods coming out of USC. Same frame, same understanding/instincts."
Josh Norris, NBC Sports: "I know it’s easy to compare players from the same school, but it’s easy to see Calvin Ridley in Jerry Jeudy’s game."

Projected round: First (top 15 overall)