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Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff WriterFeb 12, 2024, 02:42 AM ETCloseNick Wagoner is an NFL reporter at ESPN. Nick has covered the San Francisco 49ers and the NFL at ESPN since 2016, having previously covered the St. Louis Rams for 12 years, including three years (2013 to 2015) at ESPN. In his 10 years with the company, Nick has led ESPN’s coverage of the Niners’ 2019 Super Bowl run, Colin Kaepernick’s protest, the Rams making Michael Sam the first openly gay player drafted to the NFL, Sam’s subsequent pursuit of a roster spot and the team’s relocation and stadium saga. You can follow Nick via Twitter @nwagonerLAS VEGAS — Given a chance to put the narrative that has surrounded them for most of the past five years to rest, the San Francisco 49ers instead funneled all of it into a much larger question after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LVIII:If not now, when?These battle-tested and scarred Niners were built to win the franchise’s long-awaited sixth Lombardi Trophy, and they made bold moves over the past two years to do it. They traded four draft picks for running back Christian McCaffrey. They gave $40 million guaranteed to tackle Javon Hargrave to help plug a hole in the middle of their defense. And they found and developed 2022 seventh-round pick Brock Purdy, whom they steadfastly believe is their long-term answer at quarterback.Even the travails of the past four years — a blown 10-point fourth-quarter lead to Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV, an injury-ravaged 6-10 pandemic season and back-to-back disappointing losses in the NFC Championship Game — were seen inside the walls of the Niners’ facility as fuel to strengthen their resolve.Editor’s Picks2 RelatedInstead, the Chiefs stamped themselves as the league’s newest dynasty with a 25-22 overtime win for their third Super Bowl title in five seasons, with the Niners on the miserable end of two of them.Sunday’s loss added one more devastating defeat to San Francisco’s ever-growing pile of them with seasons and championships on the line. Ray-Ray McCloud III’s muffed punt, Jake Moody’s blocked extra point and Patrick Mahomes’ late-game heroics sent the Niners into another offseason with the saltiest of tastes in their mouths.Those moments join Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone in Super Bowl XLVIII and Tyreek Hill’s 44-yard catch in the waning moments of Super Bowl LIV as the indelible images of championships that got away.”Yeah, I was speechless. Couldn’t really look anybody in the eye. Especially all my teammates,” defensive end Nick Bosa said. “I could have done more. Everybody could have done more and there’s really not much to say at this point. It’s going to hurt, it’s going to hit in waves, but that’s life.”The number of years without a title now sits at 29, a shocking amount of time for a franchise that racked up five Lombardi Trophies in a 13-year span from 1981 to ’94, led by some of the greatest players and coaches the sport has known. San Francisco is the fifth team in league history to lose three straight Super Bowls, a streak that follows it winning in its first five appearances in the big game.And now the Niners must contend with the present failure and the unknown of the future. The championship window for the roster’s veterans might be shrinking ahead of a looming 2025 payday for Purdy.”The hardest thing is looking at the guys, the Ronnie Lotts, the Steve Youngs, the Joe Montanas, when we haven’t done that,” general manager John Lynch said. “Because those guys have had our backs, and we want to have theirs and so they know we’re fighting, but you got to pay that off.”If you want to be great, that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to bust through.”IN THE AFTERMATH of this loss, plenty of attention will be paid to coach Kyle Shanahan, who has been on the losing side of the only two Super Bowls to go to overtime. He has completed his seventh season as an NFL head coach and, at 44, has plenty of time to finish the job.But it’s difficult to even get to the door of the Super Bowl, let alone to kick it down and walk away with the Lombardi Trophy. Before Shanahan got the 49ers to a pair of Super Bowls in a four-year span, Jim Harbaugh restored San Francisco to contender status.From 2011 to ’13, Harbaugh led the Niners to the NFC Championship Game every season, including their first since 1997. In his second season, they reached their first Super Bowl since 1994.Despite getting so close so often in four seasons in San Francisco — he left for the University of Michigan after the 2014 season — Harbaugh was unable to break through.”There’s no other sport as competitive as the National Football League,” Harbaugh said last week. “I dream about having another crack at it.”Ray-Ray McCloud was unable to recover a muffed punt in the third quarter, resulting in a Chiefs recovery and a touchdown to give them the lead. Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY SportsWhat’s harder to accept is how challenging it is to break through when Superman is wearing the other team’s jersey. For many years, it was Montana who helped prevent Hall of Famers such as Dan Marino from getting a ring. Tom Brady’s dominance over two decades kept other greats such as Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees from having more than a solitary Super Bowl title.We’re now in the Patrick Mahomes era, where teams have to go through Kansas City and its stellar quarterback to win a championship. It’s one thing to have Super Bowl talent, but sometimes a team can be great at a bad time.All of which makes this latest loss even harder for the Niners. They’re 0-4 against the Chiefs under Shanahan, with three of those losses coming by double digits. It’s the most losses without a win that San Francisco has had against any opponent under Shanahan. Even if the Niners get back to this point, there’s a real chance that Mahomes, Andy Reid & Co. will be waiting.”This is my second (Super Bowl) as the head coach, but I think when you go against guys like Tom Brady and Pat Mahomes, you better never feel comfortable with the lead,” Shanahan said after Sunday’s loss. “Those are two of the best players to ever play the game. That’s why when you have a lead or you’re down points, those guys are always in it. You watch ’em all the time do that stuff.”Before Sunday night’s loss, the Shanahan and Reid comparisons were already being made. Reid went to five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl in his 14 years as Philadelphia Eagles coach, then made five playoff appearances and an AFC Championship Game in his first six seasons with the Chiefs before getting his title in Super Bowl LIV.The label that came with that was “best coach to never win a Super Bowl.” The importance of getting over the hump isn’t lost on those in Shanahan’s orbit.San Francisco cornerback Charvarius Ward was with Kansas City when Reid won his first title. While he believes Shanahan is already on the same level as his former coach, he knows how much Shanahan wants to win it all.Records set in Super Bowl LVIIIMost field goals made, career: 9, Harrison ButkerLongest field goal made: 57, Harrison ButkerMost 50-Yard field goals made, game: 2, Jake MoodyHighest average punting, game: 50.8, Tommy Townsend, Mitch WishnowskyMost fumbles recovered, career: 4, Patrick MahomesMost field goals made, both teams: 7, Kansas City (4), San Francisco (3)Highest average punting, team: 50.8, Kansas City, San FranciscoFewest kickoff returns, both teams: 0, Kansas City vs. San FranciscoFewest kickoff return yards, both teams: 0, Kansas City vs. San Francisco “[Shanahan] eats, sleeps and breathes football, too,” Ward said earlier this week. “I think that’s going to solidify everything for him in his career, getting that Super Bowl ring. I feel like that’s the only thing he’s missing. … Everybody knows he’s one of the best minds in football.”But the scars from these losses have a cumulative effect. Shanahan has said he usually needs at least a month after the season to clear his mind and be ready to get back after it, especially following season-ending heartbreak.It’s a feeling Harbaugh can relate to. Even now, 11 years after losing to the Baltimore…

#49ers #title #window #closed #latest #loss #questioning

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