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Armando Salguero: So Much Has Changed For 49ers And Chiefs Since Their Super Bowl

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It was seemingly a different world that sun-drenched morning in South Florida on February 2, 2020.

World-wide pandemics were the stuff of history books about the middle ages. People could come and go without having to show their medical records, and masks were things only surgeons, nurses and bank robbers wore.

Oh, and the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers were great football teams.

It’s not that long ago, but so much has changed since that day when Super Bowl LIV was played at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Chiefs and 49ers had all the answers then.

They’re searching for answers now.

The Chiefs were just dealt a serious blow to their season on Sunday. The 27-3 loss to Tennessee showed that the AFC Super Bowl team of the last two seasons has some serious issues and that the unremarkable win over the Washington Football Team the week before was more an exception to what’s happening than a statement all is well.

The 49ers were dealt a 30-18 whipping by the Indianapolis Colts, the team’s fourth consecutive loss and third in as many home games.

The Chiefs are tied for last place in the AFC West with a 3-4 record and mired among the also-rans within the conference.

The only thing saving the 49ers from bringing up the rear in the NFC West at 2-4 is Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson’s injury, which has crashed the Seahawks’ season.

So, yeah, the mighty have fallen.

“It’s pretty down in there right now,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters moments after the loss to Indy. “Losing four games in a row, it’s been a month. That’s tough. It was tough, really the last two weeks, losing three in a row. We just added another to it.

“Doesn’t make it any easier. I told the guys they got to be tough-minded, they got to stick together. We got guys with high character in there. I think we’ve got good enough football players. We have to handle whatever we’re going to get and come back and play better next week versus Chicago.”

The two teams that seemed built to last before their fateful Super Bowl meeting — both young, both so seemingly complete — have run into some unforeseen problems.

In Kansas City, the problem is the defense, always the red-headed stepchild compared to the offense, is not stopping many people. And the offense, always cutting edge and able to overcome anything including deficits and flaws in other areas, is now inconsistent and prone to mistakes.

The signing of defensive end Frank Clark to a five-year, $104 million contract following a 2019 trade that cost the Chiefs a first- and second-round pick has not really gone as expected. Clark was solid in 2019 and ’20 but has been a disaster so far this year, failing to collect even one sack while dealing with off-field distractions.

Clark had two gun-related arrests over the summer.

On offense, the Chiefs’ running game is 14th in the NFL in yards per game, while the passing game with quarterback Patrick Mahomes has produced more interceptions this year (9) than all of last year (6) and only two fewer than the past two years combined (11).

It’s rough now in BBQ town, folks.

“The obvious things are the things that we need to take care of right now,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. “Those are the penalties, the turnovers — those have got to be answered and taken care of. That will help us with the third down situation and then put ourselves in position where we can also create some turnovers.

“Defensively, we did some great things in the run game against a really good runner. But there are spots here where we’ve got to take care of business, whether it’s with the pass game offensively or defensively. We’ve got to make sure we better ourselves there.

“These are all things that we can do individually and collectively as a team, but it’s got to get done.”

The most stunning of all these is Mahomes not playing at anywhere near the level he has in the past. The guy was the darling of NFL highlight for three years, but this year he has been one lowlight after another.

It’s not that teams have figured out Mahomes. They’ve just crafted better plans to stop him.

“Yeah so they had a good plan on us,” Reid said of the Titans. “They pushed the pocket on the right side on the quarterback’s throwing arm and they worked at times 10 to 11 yards around the corner, which once you work the quarterback’s throwing arm, he can’t step up so now he’s deep around the corner.”

The 49ers have quarterback issues of a different variety.

Although Jimmy Garoppolo took the team to that Super Bowl two years ago, he’s obviously not the team’s quarterback of the future. That’s Trey Lance, whom the 49ers drafted with the No. 3 overall pick of the draft in April.

The problem is that Lance is raw and inexperienced, and, yes, injured now.

Garoppolo, likely headed for a trade at some point, is healthy now, but his health has been as inconsistent a status as his play. He payed only six games last season.

And when Garoppolo has been healthy, he’s also been kind of average.

No bueno.

The dissatisfaction with his veteran quarterback is evident these days in Shanahan’s answers, such as when he was asked after Sunday’s loss whether Garoppolo would continue to start.

I would guess so,” he said.

He echoed that on Monday.

“We didn’t go into that game thinking that Jimmy was one bad game away from losing his job or anything like that,” the coach said. “Jimmy didn’t play as good as he could, which he know that also.

“We know Trey is the future here and we’re trying to do what’s best for him and for our team. And Trey’s coming off a pretty big injury and we’re going to keep bringing him along and keep getting him prepared as good as he can be to always be ready to come in and help on the plays that we ask him to do.”

Not a resounding endorsement.

Shanahan, by the way, is 8-14 since that Super Bowl that San Francisco lost to Kansas City. And there are mounting questions about that mark in the Bay Area.

“I totally expect everything that goes with the territory,” Shanahan said Monday. “I think our fans have treated us great since we’ve been here. I think [general manager] John [Lynch] and I came in, we knew what we were signing up for in those first two years. You never like to say you’re planning on having a bad season, but we understood coming in where we were at.

“And we knew it was going to be very tough to get to where we wanted to go to. And we did that by our third year, which was about a year ahead of where we kind of planned on, which we were very proud of and came up just a little bit short of that Super Bowl and right into COVID and we’re trying to run it back and quickly in that year after the Super Bowl, things didn’t go well.

“And we did have a disappointing season, which I know there were a number of circumstances that people did talk about, which I do appreciate that, but I totally understand how it goes.” 

Reid isn’t under such scrutiny in Kansas City. But he’s no less aching for a rally to somehow save the season.

“You’ve got to stick together first and then you’ve got to practice the right way, and then you’ve got to transfer that out onto the playing field. And coaches have to make sure that they keep trying to put their players in the best possible position that they can to make plays,” Reid said.

“There’s got to be a universal joint effort that takes place to do that, and unless you’re doing that and feeling that, then it doesn’t change around. That’s how that goes, so we’ve got to make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction there and getting it done.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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  1. It’s always been strange how NFL teams do not react to disappointing seasons the way MLB teams do. Winning teams in baseball will go out and get the left-handed reliever, the leadoff hitter, or whatever else they need mid-season if they need to. NFL teams just play the same hand all season for the most part. Kind of strange.

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