MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The play was right there to be made.
With 1:39 left and the 49ers trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 24-20 in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium, Emmanuel Sanders beat Charvarius Ward off the line, got behind the safety and started sprinting toward the end zone. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo saw his receiver come open, he stepped up and let it fly with Super Bowl immortality in sight.
The ball sailed over Sanders and the 49ers' last real shot to take home the Lombardi Trophy died when the ball clanged to the turf. Garoppolo was sacked on the ensuing fourth-down play, turning the ball over on downs and the Chiefs secured a 31-20 win.
After the loss, Sanders was in no mood to discuss the overthrow that might have robbed him of his Super Bowl hero moment.
“What route do you think it was?” Sanders said when asked about the play design.
Did he feel like he was close to hauling it in?
“What did you see?” Sanders said rolling his eyes. “How close did I look? Yeah, how close did I look? It’s a dumb question. Next question.”
And with that, Sanders stormed out of the media center and off to the bus, leaving his quarterback and head coach to answer questions about the game-winner that should have been.
“Emmanuel did a good job of just getting over the safeties,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I didn’t see how the pocket was, so I’m not sure. I was looking downfield. It just looked like he missed him.”
Garoppolo, who looked crisp during the middle of the game after throwing a ghastly first-quarter interception, thought the overthrow was indicative of the 49ers’ entire night in which they blew a 10-point lead with 8:53 remaining.
“We missed some shots tonight,” Garoppolo said after the loss. “Just some plays we usually make. It was a tough one out there.”
The 49ers entered the fourth quarter with an iron grip on the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl title. Their vaunted defensive line was hounding Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and Garoppolo and the offense were picking up plays in chunks during a third quarter that was a microcosm of the 49ers’ season.
Then, everything flipped. Mahomes scored two touchdowns in six minutes, thrusting the weight of the world off his shoulders and onto the back of Garoppolo.
Four times before this season, Garoppolo led game-winning drives. The 49ers had moved the ball at will for much of the game.
They were confident. This was there moment. Shanahan had drawn up the perfect play, Sanders beat his man. But the last part of the equation didn't hit.
After coming through all season long, the missed opportunity left the 49ers stunned.
“That’s exactly how it feels, disbelief,” tight end George Kittle said after the game. “We answered the call almost every single time this season. If you take out the last touchdown Atlanta scored on us, we lost three games by a combined seven points.
“Yeah, losing this one, just our mentality was, ‘Hey, we’re going to finish this out.’ When you don’t do it, you want to look at yourself in the mirror and ask why? But I’m just going to watch the tape and see what happened.”