LAS VEGAS — Despite the season ending short of their goal, the San Francisco 49ers proved on the big stage that they are a gold mine of talent.
They lost Super Bowl 58 to the Kansas City Chiefs 25-22 on Sunday in only the second overtime game in Super Bowl history. The 49ers dominated the regular season so much they had a league-high nine Pro Bowlers, five of which represented their high-powered offense. Few units have as many household names with quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, left tackle Trent Williams and tight end George Kittle.
The star of the night for San Francisco at the first Super Bowl in Las Vegas wasn’t any of them. Wide receiver Jauan Jennings became only the second player in Super Bowl history to score a passing touchdown (a trick play to McCaffrey) and catch one (a throw from Purdy where he shook off two defenders after the catch). Nick Foles is the other to do so when the Philadelphia Eagles won Super Bowl 52.
“I was just ready when my number was called,” Jennings, who was ranked as the No. 5 quarterback in the country coming out of high school, said after the game. “… It felt awesome. … To make that play, I just think about my quarterback coach from high school. I know he’s so proud right now. Man, I thought we were going to win it.”
While Purdy is known as Mr. Irrelevant because he was the last pick in the 2022 NFL draft, Jennings was also selected in the seventh round at the No. 217 pick two years earlier. Both put their talents on display in the big game.
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“Jauan is incredible,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk told the media. “He had such a big game. And I just, I love his mentality. He’s always ready to step up and make big plays in big situations and he’s a guy we can count on.”
“He’s unbelievable,” McCaffrey said. “He’s extremely gifted, but he plays with so much heart.”
The 49ers also had high praise for Purdy, who played in his first Super Bowl. He became a national sensation last year when he stepped in as the third-string quarterback and led the team to the NFC championship. Among his admirers is retired Super Bowl champion Drew Brees.
In his own Super Bowl, Purdy went 23-of-38 passing for 255 yards and threw the touchdown to Jennings. He opened the season with five straight games without throwing an interception and protected the ball again in the title matchup.
“I thought he did a great job,” Kittle said. “Just throughout the game, I haven’t watched the tape or anything like that, but Brock seemed like his normal self. Delivering the ball when he needed to, put it in tight coverages, I think Brock played a hell of a game.”
Said linebacker Fred Warner: “He was great. He did everything necessary to win us the game. Got us two opportunities there before the end of the game, obviously overtime to give the defense a chance to go out there and end it and we didn’t do it.”
Another aspect that potentially adds to San Francisco’s success is accountability. Like Warner taking ownership of the defense allowing Patrick Mahomes to throw the game-winning touchdown to Mecole Hardman. The drive featured two third-down conversions and a fourth-and-1 where Travis Kelce was set in motion and Mahomes faked the handoff to Isiah Pacheco, then jetted forward to move the chains.
McCaffrey fumbled the ball on the first drive of the game. He finished with 22 carries for 80 rushing yards and caught all eight passes thrown to him, including the score from Jennings, but the turnover lingered with him.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” he said. “Can’t fumble the ball on the first drive, gotta get points.”
Purdy also looked in the mirror at his own role in the loss.
“I got to be better in terms of leading the guys,” he said, “and just how I handle things in the huddle and telling them what to expect.”
The 49ers showcased their ability to handle adversity this season. There was a stretch where Samuel, Williams and star linebacker Dre Greenlaw were all hurt. San Francisco lost three straight games. Greenlaw injured his Achilles in the Super Bowl and the team felt his absence.
“I was sick to my stomach,” Warner said. “I’m still sick. I see him at halftime and I’m just, I’m crying ‘cause I’m so hurt for him.”
While many players said they weren’t able to reflect on the season or have expectations for next year, McCaffrey said his mindset remains the same.
“I’m always motivated,” he said. “Right now, it stings, but it’s life, man, which sucks. Bad things happen, it’s all about how you respond.”