The 49ers will forever be haunted by chances missed

San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl

The San Francisco 49ers lost on Sunday, largely because of conservatism and missed opportunities in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV.

MIAMI — Kyle Shanahan had largely been aggressive all year. In Super Bowl LIV, he went conservative.

Two moments will stick out to Shanahan for as long as he lives. The first came in the final moments of the second quarter. Instead of calling one of his three timeouts after stopping the Kansas City Chiefs on third down on the first play out of the two-minute warning, Shanahan opted to let the clock run, burning almost half the remaining time. He then ran twice into the line.

Starting the third quarter, the 49ers reached Kansas City’s 24-yard line and faced a 4th-and-2. Instead of attempting a conversion, Shanahan sent kicker Robbie Gould out for a 42-yard field goal and a 13-10 lead.

Two consecutive drives that could have, maybe should have resulted in 10 or every 14 points came out as three.

Maybe Shanahan didn’t trust quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. After all, it sure felt that way in real time. But this is the Super Bowl. Scared money doesn’t win.

Shanahan was fanning out bills, and those greenbacks were terrified.

Still, it wasn’t only Shanahan. Garoppolo had his opportunities to convert third downs, including on the aforementioned drive that made the game 13-10. All-Pro tight end George Kittle came open quickly, but the veteran quarterback dumped the ball down quickly to running back Tevin Coleman, resulting in a three-yard gain on 3rd-and-5.

Defensively, the 49ers weren’t conservative, but they’ll have their own share of regrets.

San Francisco had stymied Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes all night by successfully rushing with four and covering deep zones. Coordinator Robert Saleh bet Kansas City couldn’t drive on long jaunts all night, and he was right. Through the first 50 minutes of the game, the Chiefs had a paltry 10 points.

Then, suddenly, the lights went out for the Niners. Mahomes lit the fuse for Kansas City with a 44-yard bomb to Tyreek Hill on 3rd and 15 with 7:13 remaining. After that, pass interference in the end zone against tight end Travis Kelce. The next play, Kelce for six.

On the ensuing drive, it was future Hall of Fame cornerback Richard Sherman being beaten on 2nd-and-7 by Sammy Watkins on a 38-yard catch down the right sideline. Soon thereafter, the eventual game-winning score.

The 49ers had played the perfect game defensively for so long. Then, quickly, everything fell apart.

Now comes the next dose of reality.

Getting back to the Super Bowl for any team is hard. Doing so without an elite quarterback is doubly so. San Francisco must attempt to keep defensive tackle Arik Armstead and maybe receiver Emmanuel Sanders while continuing to build around Garoppolo. It’s not easy.

On their long flight back to the Bay Area, Shanahan will be thinking about chances he should have taken. Garoppolo will be thinking about throws he should have made. Saleh will be thinking about a masterpiece gone awry.

Moments and glory are fleeting in the NFL. The 49ers will be thinking about what could have been for quite some time.

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