The 49ers will ask themselves a lot of questions

(Las Vegas) For the 49ers of San Francisco, another frustrating season has just come to an end. Several questions will run through their minds, but one will keep coming back: what if?

What if the Niners hadn’t botched a punt return that led to a Kansas City Chiefs touchdown? What if the team had been able to convert a third down to run out the clock and score a game-winning field goal at the end of the fourth quarter? And if the 49ers had scored a touchdown on the first drive of overtime?

The most important? What if San Francisco hadn’t had to face the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes again in the Super Bowl?

“I was speechless,” defensive end Nick Bosa said of his state of mind after Sunday’s 25-22 overtime loss.

“There’s not much to say at this point. It will hurt. It’s going to hit us in waves. But that’s life. »

It’s a feeling that’s becoming all too familiar for the 49ers. They blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to lose the 2020 Super Bowl to the same Chiefs. They blew another 10-point lead in the 2021 National championship game against the Rams.

It was an elbow injury suffered by Brock Purdy in the first push of that championship game last season against the Philadelphia Eagles that ended their season.

This team has won 62 games over the last five campaigns and still doesn’t have a championship.

“It hurts,” Purdy said. We obviously have the team to do it. The way things had gone over the past two years, everyone was very hungry. »

For a time, everything suggested that the 49ers were going to win their first Super Bowl since 1994. They led 10-0 early in the game, but their offense faltered in the third quarter and a botched punt return allowed the Chiefs to find themselves in the field goal. They had no trouble scoring a touchdown.

A blocked conversion early in the fourth quarter also kept the Chiefs just three points behind the Niners. A knockdown on third down with less than two minutes left in the quarter led to a field goal and enough time for the Chiefs to tie the game.

Then, on the first drive of overtime, a botched assignment on a block in the pay zone paved the way for another field goal, instead of, perhaps, a touchdown.

When the defense couldn’t stop Mahomes, the game ended with a three-yard pass to Mecole Hardman for the touchdown.

“We had every chance to win this game and we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities,” admitted linebacker Fred Warner.

And now ?

Despite this disappointing end, the season of 49ers had several positive aspects. The Niners finished first in the Nationals due to a powerful attack. Purdy established himself as this franchise’s quarterback just over a year after being the very last pick in the NFL draft.

The offense features Offensive Player of the Year Christian McAffrey and top receivers in Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.

The defense has been effective most of the season, led in particular by Bosa and Warner.

The team has most of its core under contract heading into next season. Only four Super Bowl starters will become free agents.

The biggest question comes at defensive end, where Chase Young and Randy Gregory, acquired this season, and Clelin Ferrell are all eligible for free agency. Ferrell, injured for the playoffs, appears closest to a return next season.

The other big name who could benefit from free agency is safety Tashaun Gipson. But with rookie Ji’Ayir Brown showing good things this season and Talanoa Hufanga expected to return from a knee injury, the Niners could make up for this loss.

After two consecutive drafts without a first-round pick, the 59ers will now have the opportunity to select a quality player at 31e rank.

They could also count on 10 picks on Days 2 and 3 of the draft, including additional selections in the third and fourth rounds.

Adding depth to the offensive line and linebackers could be their priority.

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