If the 49ers are going to point the finger, they must first point it at themselves.
When you have a 10-point lead with less than 12 minutes remaining in the Super Bowl -- with the ball, no less -- you have to finish. San Francisco didn't, left the door open for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, and ultimately fell short of its sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
However, the 49ers weren't the only ones that screwed up. At various points throughout Super Bowl LIV, the officials made some questionable calls at critical moments, and the majority of them seemed to work against the 49ers. Perhaps if those calls go a different way, there's a different Super Bowl champion.
Sour grapes? Sure. But based on the following three plays, it's tough to deny that San Francisco got the short end of the stick in the biggest game of the year.
The first critical moment in question occurred late in the first half. The 49ers decided not to call a timeout ahead of a Kansas City punt, leaving them 80 yards away from the end zone with 59 seconds remaining in the second quarter. San Francisco appeared to gain a huge chunk of that yardage on an absolute dime from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to tight end George Kittle, which took the Niners down to Kansas City's 13-yard-line -- only it was not to be.
Kittle was called for offensive pass interference, negating the play, and the 49ers went into halftime with the score tied 10-10.
Are you surprised they called this OPI? 🤔 https://t.co/UaUSdZV0lI— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) February 3, 2020
Was it pass interference? That all depends on which games you have watched this NFL season -- and which segments of those contests, at that. There has been absolutely zero consistency with the offensive pass interference determination this season; the very same play is being called both ways.
But, this is the Super Bowl. To call that on Kittle for such minimal contact at such a critical moment, we should have seen several more offensive pass interference calls throughout the game for any sort of hand-fighting. But did we?
Right or wrong, I'm not entirely sure. But one thing I'm positive about: That was a Charmin-soft call.
This one might be the worst.
With just under nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the 49ers faced a third-and-14 from their own 34-yard-line while still holding the 10-point advantage. The Chiefs arguably committed not one, but two penalties on the play, both of which occurred either before or after the ball was in play. Neither were called.
First, before the ball was snapped, Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon clearly jumped offsides. I mean, just look. It's not even close.
Just saw this. The Chiefs most definitely jumped offsides on this play. Granted it was 3rd and 14 but you never know. pic.twitter.com/th5AXOw0Et— Kyle Seeley (@ItsKyleSeeley) February 3, 2020
How the officials can miss that, I have absolutely no idea. Of course, they made it worse by missing a second call several seconds later. Garoppolo was forced to the outside -- possibly related to Kpassagnon's early jump -- and was limited to a 3-yard rush on third down. However, he already was out of bounds when hit by a Chiefs defender, right in front of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
For a league that is supposed to be protecting quarterbacks at all costs, that was an obvious late-hit penalty, which would have given San Francisco an automatic first down. And yet, no call. Shanahan rightfully was livid.
Minutes later, this obvious helmet-to-helmet contact by Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann while blitzing Garoppolo also went uncalled. Well done, guys
Garoppolo should be in concussion protocol. pic.twitter.com/9yQ7aOQIfn— Rudy Gersten (@DCBarno) February 3, 2020
Pick one, any one
Holding. It happens on every play. But some violations clearly are more extreme than others, and those are the ones that should be called. You can't expect the officials to catch all of them. But an entire game without a holding call? Against the 49ers' vaunted defensive line?
You could point to numerous instances in which the Chiefs should have been called for holding, but the blatant holding by Kansas City left tackle Eric Fisher on 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa late in the fourth quarter probably was the one that hurt San Francisco the most, due to the outcome of that play.
Facing a third-and-15 from his own 35-yard line, Mahomes bought some time and launched a 44-yard completion to receiver Tyreek Hill to move into 49ers territory. Of course, he was only able to buy that time because Fisher wrapped both arms around Bosa's bellybutton as the rookie was closing in for a sack.
Obviously, the officials missed it, and it turned out to be a huge missed call, as the long completion seemed to get the Chiefs back on track. Four plays later, Travis Kelce's touchdown reception pulled Kansas City within three points at 20-17.
San Francisco went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, and the Chiefs came right back with another touchdown to take the lead for good. It's not as if the 49ers executed well down the stretch, but one wonders if they would have been in a different position had any of those game-changing calls gone their way.