MIAMI (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers have won games almost every way possible this season.
They’ve won high-scoring shootouts in a dome and ugly low-scoring affairs in the mud. They’ve won nail biters decided by just inches in the final seconds and lopsided laughers. They’ve won by pounding the ball on the ground and with big plays through the air.
That flexibility to thrive in all sorts of situations should prove helpful against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday and help the Niners win their record-tying sixth Super Bowl title.
While Kansas City likely needs Patrick Mahomes to deliver an other worldly performance to win, the Niners have the defense that can at least slow the Chiefs down a bit and an offense that can exploit any weakness in an opponent.
But for San Francisco to be successful Sunday, it will start with a defense that allowed the fewest passing yards in 10 years and has been dominant when healthy like the unit is for the Super Bowl.
The team’s biggest struggles came when some combination of edge rusher Dee Ford, speedy linebacker Kwon Alexander or safety Jaquiski Tartt was out injured.
That won’t be the case Sunday.
The front four led by defensive ends Ford and Nick Bosa, and inside power rushers DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have the ability to make Mahomes get rid of the ball quickly and limit the broken plays that the Chiefs thrive on with their star quarterback.
That will be especially crucial against a speedy group of receivers led by Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, who provide the biggest threat to San Francisco’s secondary.
Despite lacking breathtaking speed, Richard Sherman had been unbeatable deep until allowing a big play to Green Bay’s Davante Adams in the NFC title game. But quarterbacks who try to survive by challenging Sherman have regretted that over the years.
With one of the league’s top slot cornerbacks in K’Waun Williams and a talented and speedy safety duo of Tartt and Jimmie Ward, the best way to beat the San Francisco secondary has been to pick on Ahkello Witherspoon opposite Sherman.
But Witherspoon was benched early in the first playoff game and Emmanuel Moseley will play in his place.
As good as San Francisco’s defense is, it’s unlikely the Niners will be able to completely shut down Mahomes so that’s where the offense comes into play.
The 49ers got to the Super Bowl by relying on coach Kyle Shanahan’s innovative running game with Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert each having big days.
Jimmy Garoppolo has barely had to throw the ball the past six quarters with just 14 attempts in that span. But when he’s been needed this season he has delivered in a big way.
He led four fourth-quarter comebacks and had three games with at least four TD passes. Any doubt that Garoppolo could carry the offense to victory should have been erased in a regular-season showdown at New Orleans.
In a game against the Saints that helped San Francisco earn the top seed in the NFC playoffs, threw for 349 yards and four TDs in a 48-46 win.
Making Garoppolo’s job easier is Shanahan’s propensity to scheme open receivers and the after-the-catch ability of All-Pro tight end George Kittle and rookie receiver Deebo Samuel.
There were the top two players in the league among receivers and tight ends when it came to breaking tackles and their ability to turn short passes into big gains ultimately will be the difference to lead the Niners to victory.
A look at some key stats and numbers for the Super Bowl
MIAMI (AP) — After more than 4,000 plays, 1,000 points and 125 touchdowns between them, there are countless numbers that tell the story of how the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs have relied on a big-play passing game led by Patrick Mahomes, while the Niners have had plenty of success on the defensive side.
Here’s a look at some key numbers for both teams that could help determine which team wins the game. (All stats courtesy of SportRadar unless otherwise specified):
64.6. The Chiefs passed the ball on 64.6% of first and second-down plays in the first 28 minutes of games this season, situations when the time and score have the least impact on play-calling. That’s the second highest rate in the NFL over the past 20 seasons to the 66.6% for the Steelers in 2018.
74.8. The 49ers have run the ball on 74.8% of plays so far this postseason, the second highest rate in the Super Bowl era to the 82.3% for the Miami Dolphins on the way to winning the title in the 1973 season.
6.65. The Niners led the NFL this season in first-down production, averaging 6.65 yards per play. That’s a staple of coach Kyle Shanahan’s offenses. The best performing first-down team in the past 20 seasons was the 2016 Falcons, who averaged 7.58 yards per play with Shanahan as offensive coordinator. Five of the top 24 teams in the past 20 years were coached by Shanahan.
4. The Chiefs have rallied to win four games they trailed by at least 10 points this season, including twice in the playoffs. They are the second team in that past 25 seasons win multiple games in a postseason when trailing by double digits, joining the 2014 Patriots, who did it vs. Baltimore and Seattle. San Francisco was tied for the second-most double-digit comebacks this season with three.
32. No team threw the ball deep fewer times this season than the 49ers. Their 32 pass attempts at least 20 yards downfield were the second fewest in the NFL in the past 13 seasons. They were successful when they did throw deep with the 106.8 rating on deep throws ranking second in the NFL to Kansas City’s 122.6.
37. The Chiefs ranked second in the NFL this season with 37 pass completions on throws that traveled at least 20 yards downfield. But no team was stingier against deep passes than the Niners, who allowed only eight all regular season. That’s the fewest in the NFL over the past 14 seasons.
44. Kansas City hasn’t lost a game by more than eight points in its last 44 contests, including the postseason. The only teams to have longer streaks are Seattle (46 from 2011-14), Green Bay (45 from 2009-12) and New England (45 from 2010-13). The last time the Chiefs lost by more than eight came in a 28-17 defeat to Dallas on Nov. 5, 2017, with Alex Smith at QB. Garoppolo has lost by more than eight just once in 28 career starts, a 38-27 defeat at Kansas City last season.
22. San Francisco and Kansas City were tied for the NFL lead with 22 sacks on third down this season. Mahomes has the second-lowest third-down sack rate the past two seasons among players with at least 200 passes on third downs at 7.3%.
31. The 49ers used play action on 31% of dropbacks, the highest rate in the league, according to NFL NextGen starts. Garoppolo averaged 10.3 yards per attempt on play action compared to 7.4 ypa on other passes.
4.17. The Chiefs have allowed only 4.17 yards per carry over the past six games, a marked improvement from the start of the season. Kansas City allowed 5.11 ypc over the first 12 games, the third worst mark in the league in that span. The Niners are averaging 4.73 ypc for the season.
Jamie Foxx tricks pre-Super Bowl gala crowd with ‘Beyoncé’
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jamie Foxx tricked an A-list crowd at a pre-Super Bowl show Saturday, telling them Beyoncé was about to perform.
“I’m going to go ahead and let it out of the bag right now: Beyoncé. Beyoncé,” he screamed as the guests at The Giving Fund’s Big Game Big Give event cheered. “Beyoncé from Fort Lauderdale. It’s not the one you were thinking, but still.”
Queen Bey was not at the gala, which was held at a $65 million waterfront home on Miami Beach’s exclusive Star Island, but in attendance were several other celebrities, including Cuba Gooding Jr., Keegan-Michael Key, model Karolina Kurkova and “Breaking Bad” co-stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul and famed filmmaker Michael Bay, who played host.
2001 Super Bowl MVP and Hall of Famer Ray Lewis honored fellow Hall of Famer Jim Brown with a philanthropic award.
Foxx was playful all night, salsa dancing with the crowd, practicing his Spanish and telling everyone to get close because he smelled especially good that evening. But when the DJ played a club version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” he soured.
“We want the original Whitney,” he said, before getting the audience to chant her name. The DJ quickly obliged and cued up her original hit.
Cranston and Paul made a toast to the New Year, with Cranston saying, “We have a lot of unfortunate things that have happened,” clearly referencing the late Kobe Bryant and encouraging everyone “to try to remember people who are with us now today.”
The event raised money for several charities, auctioning off sports memorabilia, last-minute Super Bowl tickets and a retreat on a private island in Belize.
Adam Levine relieved halftime show stress is behind Maroon 5
MIAMI (AP) — A noticeably relaxed Adam Levine took the stage with Maroon 5 for a pre-Super Bowl event in Miami on Saturday, telling the crowd he was relieved the pressures of the halftime show were behind the band.
“I’m just happy we can kind of kick back and hang out down the street and have fun, but still be somewhat away from the madness,” said Levine, whose band headlined last year’s Super Bowl halftime show in Atlanta.
The frontman asked the crowd which team they thought would win on Sunday but shrugged off answering his own question, saying he didn’t have a preference between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. Drummer Matt Flynn, however, wore the jersey of San Francisco’s George Kittle.
“Now that (expletive) is over. Now we’re loose and we can have a good time,” Levine said.
He clearly relished the no-pressure vibe, saying, “It’s chill,” when he forgot a cue to grab his guitar during “Sugar,” even after admitting his mistake.
Dan + Shay, fresh off a Grammy win for “Speechless,” opened the show. Demi Lovato surprised the crowd, joining the country duo on the ballad.
Maroon 5 rocked through a series of hits during a high-energy, 90-minute set, including “Payphone,” “This Love,” “Moves Like Jagger” and “Animal,” which he played with a pink Hello Kitty guitar.
Lady Gaga: ‘I better hear no lip-syncing’ at halftime show
MIAMI (AP) — Descending from the air, Lady Gaga kicked off a pre-Super Bowl concert by mimicking her entrance to her Super Bowl halftime performance three years ago, which earned her raved reviews.
Headlining the big sports stage was a recurring theme of her Miami concert Saturday night, and the pop star sent a message to Sunday’s featured performers: “I better hear no lip-syncing tomorrow!”
Jennifer Lopez and Shakira will join forces to perform at Super Bowl 54 at the Hard Rock Stadium, when the San Francisco 49ers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Gaga has denounced lip-syncing since the beginning of her career, which kicked off in 2008 with her multi-platinum album, “The Fame.” Moments after delivering the sharp comment as she sat by the piano, she told the audience: “I love you Miami. I love you J. Lo. I love you Shakira.”
Gaga performed at the AT&T TV Super Saturday Night show at Meridian at Island Gardens. Toward the end of her show — which closed with an epic perfomance of her Oscar- and Grammy-winning smash “Shallow” — she said she hoped Lopez and Shakira shine onstage.
“I wish so much love and so much luck to everyone that’s doing the halftime show, to both the teams that are playing each other in the Super Bowl,” she said. “They’re all champions.”