Deebo Samuel had a quiet fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV.
The 49ers' rookie receiver ran for 53 yards on three carries and caught five passes for 39 yards in the first three quarters of San Francisco's 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. He had no touches in the fourth quarter, even though 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo targeted Samuel three times.
With the 49ers up 20-17 and just over five minutes remaining in regulation, Samuel appeared to open for a screen pass on a second-and-5 play when Garoppolo threw to George Kittle. Garoppolo's intended pass was blocked at the line by Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones.
Man, if Jimmy can just flip it to Deebo here — wide open in the flat — it’s an even steeper climb for the Chiefspic.twitter.com/3tZLo8hJox— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) February 3, 2020
The play proved to be a turning point. Garoppolo's next pass fell incomplete, too, and the 49ers punted, setting up the Chiefs' game-winning touchdown drive en route to their first Super Bowl win in a half-century.
In hindsight, would Garoppolo want that second-down pass back? NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms broke the play down on Twitter, arguing that Garoppolo was right to target Kittle rather than Samuel, who essentially was being used as a decoy on the play.
— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) February 3, 2020
"This is a great gameplan-designed play," Simms said. " ... They're faking the bubble screen. George Kittle's faking, kind of like he's coming off looking to block somebody. He's wide open. Wide open. I mean, it doesn't get any more wide open than this in the NFL. It's a slam-dunk completion. Shanahan dialed it up perfect."
The 49ers even managed to neutralize Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones as best they could, according to Simms. Despite the 49ers' strong pass protection, Jones still got a hand on Garoppolo's pass, leaving the 49ers no recourse other than to shrug the play off and move on.
"They blocked Chris Jones really [well] and, you know, sometimes players just make plays," Simms continued. "Look at his eyes -- yeah, he's blocked really well. He realizes he's not gonna get [to Garoppolo] right away, and then he's going, 'OK, let me find the quarterback so I can maybe get some hands up.' And he does a great job of getting both hands on that (pass), maybe saving the game for the Chiefs."
Kittle was open again on the ensuing third down, according to Simms, but Garoppolo wasn't looking in his tight end's direction.
Simms, who played with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan at the University of Texas, did not fault his former teammate's play-calling down the stretch. He noted that Samuel's three carries accounted for a large amount of the 49ers' rushing production (nearly 40 percent), which he felt made questions about San Francisco's lack of second-half runs moot.
After the rookie accounted for nearly 100 rushing and receiving yards in the first three quarters, it's fair to wonder why Samuel didn't get more touches with the game on the line. The 49ers did use Samuel to open up Kittle at an important moment, as Simms noted.
But with the game on the line, they simply didn't execute.