The San Francisco 49ers have thoroughly outplayed the Kansas City Chiefs through three quarters of Super Bowl LVIII. It's fitting that Kansas City holds the lead, all because the Niners fell victim once again to a special teams gaffe.
After stopping the Chiefs in their own territory, the Niners received a punt inside their red zone — and muffed it. At first glance, it looked like a total miscalculation from Ray-Ray McCloud III, who dove for the football and missed.
Upon further review, however, it became clear that the punt landed on the foot of Niners CB Darrell Luter Jr., forcing McCloud to scramble for a recovery he couldn't make. That gave the Chiefs a fresh set of downs in the red zone, and Mahomes quickly connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for the touchdown.
And somehow, the Chiefs took the lead.
49ers special teams gaffe hands Chiefs the lead
It's so fitting. So predictable. The Niners have been the better team front to back through three-plus quarters, but self-inflicted wounds — the McCaffrey fumble on the opening drive, back-to-back penalties from Trent Williams, this punt miscue — and untimely injuries have left the Niners fully vulnerable. It's difficult to outplay a team and still end up facing a deficit, but the Niners have accomplished that very feat.
This feels like a classic instance of inexperience, nerves, and plain back luck impacting the underdog. Kansas City has been on this stage before. They know how to weather the storm. It also helps that the Chiefs possess one of the best special teams units in the NFL.
It's hard to place "blame" on anybody here, at least not in the traditional sense. It's bad luck for the punt to hit Luter's foot, and worse luck that McCloud couldn't make the angle to pick up the loose ball. The Chiefs are viewed by many as the team of destiny. Sometimes fortune favors the bad guys — assuming you're not a Chiefs fan. If you're a Kansas City fan, it was only a matter of time until the Niners cracked under pressure.
This is shaping up to be quite the finish. San Francisco marched down the field to re-take the lead, but a blocked extra point kept the lead at three. That lead is nowhere close to safe against a Patrick Mahomes-led offense.
Let the fireworks begin.