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Super Bowl 54: Five key 49ers-Chiefs matchups that could decide winner

Super Bowl 54: Five key 49ers-Chiefs matchups that could decide winner

The matchup is set. And what a great matchup it is.

The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 2, and all eyes will be on Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

On the other side, nobody seems quite sure where to look. That’s because the 49ers’ winning formula this season has been that there is no winning formula.

The 49ers have gotten it done this season with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the ball around the field. They’ve won games with Garoppolo doing nothing more than handing it off, as was the case Sunday in the 49ers’ 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

And the 49ers certainly have gotten it done repeatedly with their defense.

We look ahead two weeks to some of the big matchups that could determine which team places the Lombardi Trophy in a glass case:

DE Nick Bosa vs. QB Patrick Mahomes

You want star power? This is your matchup.

Mahomes won the NFL MVP in 2018 in his first season as the starter. And there was no fall-off this season, other than an injury that kept him out of two games.

Mahomes is a big-play guy with a big arm. He likes to let plays develop down the field. On Sunday in Kansas City’s 35-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans, Mahomes held onto the ball in order to make things happen. Pro Football Focus held him responsible for two sacks, a hit and five hurries. He also threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, so his mindset generally pays off.

San Francisco rookie defensive end Nick Bosa is an exceptional talent who always seems to be breathing down the necks of quarterbacks. After registering nine sacks in the regular season, Bosa dropped the quarterback three times in his first two postseason games.

If Bosa can bring down Mahomes whenever he gets him in his sights, the 49ers’ defense should have a good day.

NB K’Waun Williams vs. WR Tyreek Hill

There might not be a better nickel back in the NFL than K’Waun Williams. There might not be a more speedy, explosive playmaker in the NFL than Tyreek Hill.

Williams is the 49ers’ most underrated player. But he is as good as it gets with his combination of man and zone coverage skills, blitzing off the slot and tackling. For a guy who is listed at only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Williams is a powerful, steady tackler.

Hill works out of the slot for a sizable portion of games, so Williams will see plenty of him on Super Bowl Sunday. Hill caught 58 passes for 860 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. He is a big play waiting to happen, and it will be Williams’ job to prevent it.

LG Laken Tomlinson vs. DT Chris Jones

The 49ers’ offensive line took center stage against the Packers, opening the holes through which Raheem Mostert blasted. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns.

It is doubtful the 49ers will have anything approaching their margin of 42 run plays and nine passes. Left guard Laken Tomlinson will have the huge responsibility of going up against Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones, who is equally adept at stopping the run and getting after the quarterback.

Tomlinson, acquired in a trade just before the start of the 2017 regular season, has played very well in the 49ers’ system with his blend of strength, athleticism and smarts. Jones is a load, and he did not appear at all slowed by a calf injury that kept him out of the divisional round. Jones had one quarterback hit and four hurries against the Titans, according to PFF.

DE Dee Ford vs. RT Mitchell Schwartz

Kansas City selected Dee Ford in the first round of the 2014 draft. Ford made it to the AFC Championship Game with the Chiefs last season. He came to the 49ers in an offseason trade for a second-round draft pick.

Ford is looking forward to this one. He will be matched, mostly, against second-team All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who had a phenomenal year in pass protection. On 782 pass-blocking snaps, Schwartz did not allow a sack, according to PFF.

Ford made it through the past two games healthy and should be as strong as he’s been all season for the Super Bowl. His ability to hit the edge will be key -- not only for the possibility of sacking Mahomes, but also allowing defensive tackles DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead enough room inside to operate.

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SS Jaquiski Tartt vs. TE Travis Kelce

Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce is his team’s version of George Kittle ... except Kelce has been doing it longer and he posted better raw receiving stats this season.

Kelce was a second-team All-Pro selection behind Kittle. Kelce had 97 receptions for 1,229 yards and five touchdowns. The responsibility for covering Kelce will not just fall onto one person on the 49ers’ defense. But strong safety Jaquiski Tartt better be ready to hold up his end of the bargain.

Tartt is the 49ers’ eighth run defender in the box. He also has the coverage skills to match up on tight ends. Tartt was beaten on Sunday for a 42-yard pass play from Packers tight end Jimmy Graham. Those are the kinds of big plays the 49ers must avoid against an explosive Kansas City offense.

Tartt was in his second game back from missing more than a month with fractured ribs. His all-around play in Miami is vital to the 49ers’ success.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

NFL Draft 2020: Justin Jefferson, Jalen Reagor meet 49ers at combine

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NFL Draft 2020: Justin Jefferson, Jalen Reagor meet 49ers at combine

Despite only possessing one pick before the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the 49ers still are doing their due diligence at the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis.

San Francisco has met with a pair of wide receivers this week in LSU product Justin Jefferson and former TCU speedster Jalen Reagor.

Jefferson, who was part of LSU’s national championship-winning squad in 2019, said his meeting with the 49ers was informal, while Reagor mentioned that the team highlighted his versatility when discussing his potential fit within the offense.

Coming off a trip to the Super Bowl, the Niners aren’t faced with a lot of glaring needs along the roster, but wide receiver certainly ranks highly among the few holes general manager John Lynch must address this offseason.

The 49ers didn’t have a wide receiver eclipse the 1,000-yard mark last season, with All-Pro tight end George Kittle barely surpassing it (1,053).

Jefferson caught an NCAA Division I-best 111 passes for the Tigers in 2019 and closed out his final collegiate season with 1,540 yards. In the latest NBC Sports Bay Area mock draft, Jefferson wasn't available when the Niners were on the clock at No. 31.

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Reagor’s broad skillset likely would mesh well with the 49ers’ motion-heavy offense, as Reagor made big plays for the Horned Frogs in the running, receiving, and return game during his three seasons in Fort Worth.

This will be Lynch and Shanahan’s first opportunity to draft outside of the top five in the first round, as they hope to build on a breakout 2019 season.

49ers hoping receiver Jalen Hurd will be cleared for offseason program

49ers hoping receiver Jalen Hurd will be cleared for offseason program

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even before the 49ers have the opportunity to select a wide receiver in the draft, the club expects to add the services of a young pass-catcher.

Jalen Hurd, a third-round draft pick from a year ago, appears to be on schedule to receive clearance to rejoin the 49ers when the offseason program begins in April. Hurd spent his rookie season on injured reserve due to a stress fracture in his lower back.

“For it to completely heal, it happens on different timelines,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We found that his has been stubborn. We think he’s been nearing towards a much better place where he’ll be cleared for all activities.

“(We) don’t want to officially give that word, but there have been some recent scans and things that give us a lot of hope that that’ll be the case, come April 1, he’ll be a full-go.”

Hurd was not around the team too much during his rookie season. He did not travel to Miami for Super Bowl LIV due to concerns about aggravating his back condition.

“I think there’s a little anxiety on his part that the long plane rides had set him off before and he worked so hard to try to get right, and kind of didn’t want that to enter the equation,” Lynch said.

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In order for Hurd's back to heal, the 49ers and Hurd felt it was best to keep him off his feet.  

“With his back stuff, he didn’t want to travel, didn’t want to be in the meetings and everything," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "There wasn’t much to do. He had a stress fracture and it’s taking a long time to heal, so we wanted him to be as immobile as possible.”

Hurd (6-foot-4, 227 pounds) caught 69 passes for 946 yards and four touchdowns in his senior season at Baylor in 2018. He played his first three college seasons at Tennessee, where he rushed for 2,635 yards and 20 touchdowns as a running back.

Hurd appeared in the 49ers’ preseason opener last summer and caught two touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys before experiencing the back condition that sidelined him for the rest of the season.