There’s only one scapegoat for 49ers’ Super Bowl loss, and it’s not Kyle Shanahan

On third-and-6 close to midfield during the Kansas City Chiefs’ final drive of overtime, the 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks decided it was the ideal time to call a cover-zero blitz against Patrick Mahomes with a Super Bowl championship on the line.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan recognized the absurdity of what Wilks was about to do (Sunday night wasn’t the first time this season that Wilks wanted to run a cover zero in a critical situation either), calling a timeout to regroup.

However, Mahomes hit rookie Rashee Rice for a 13-yard gain on the next play, converting the Chiefs’ eighth third-down attempt of the game and keeping alive a drive that should have ended three plays earlier when Wilks’ coverage scheme left a huge hole on the right side for Mahomes to run off tackle for eight yards and convert on fourth-and-1.

Shanahan’s overriding of Wilks initial play call wasn’t the 54-year-old coordinator’s only mental gaffe of the overtime period either.

Twice, Mahomes burned the 49ers with his legs in critical situations, converting on separate third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 plays, extending a game that likely should have ended with the 49ers hoisting the Lombardi Trophy had they been in the right defensive alignment, had a QB spy, or simply didn’t blitz.

Unfortunately for Wilks, his defensive play-calling miscues were magnified when it mattered most, negating the brilliant game he called through the first three quarters.

During that span, the 49ers held Kansas City to 222 yards on 47 plays (4.7 yards per play) while forcing five punts, a fumble and an interception and allowing one touchdown and two field goals.

But in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Chiefs totaled 208 yards on 36 plays (5.7 yards per play), scoring a touchdown and two field goals on three drives, all of which were 11 plays or longer after having just one such drive in their previous 10.

Sure, Shanahan could have run the ball more than he did in the second half and tried to control the time of possession more, and he certainly should have done so earlier than the start of the fourth quarter (SF called designed passes on 12 of its first 15 plays in the second half).

But it was Wilks’ play-calling that allowed the Chiefs to drive 64 yards down the field in 1:50 while converting twice on third down — including a 22-yard completion to Travis Kelce on a third-and-7 with 16 seconds left — before KC scored the tying field goal with just three seconds left in regulation.

It was also Wilks’ play-calling that allowed the Chiefs to drive 75 yards in overtime while allowing a combined 40 yards on third-and-6, third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 situations before yielding the winning touchdown from inside the five-yard line.



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