It’s been four years since the San Francisco 49ers last reached a Super Bowl – playing the game in a warm location against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Apparently, the more things change, the more they stay the same. After last appearing in Miami against KC in Super Bowl LIV, the Niners face the Chiefs once again in Super Bowl LVIII – this time, in Las Vegas.
Many of the Niners remember that game well, with San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan referring to this upcoming matchup as a chance to settle ‘unfinished business’.
But so many things are different now and both teams are not in the same position as they were before with changes in roster and in fortune in recent years.
DailyMail.com takes a look back at Super Bowl LIV, how the teams have done since that game, and what may make the difference this coming Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs prepare to play the San Francisco 49ers in a Super Bowl once again
How did the game go?
Going into the contest, San Francisco was one of the most complete units in the entire NFL – ranking fourth in total offense and second in total defense in the 2019 regular season. Kansas City had the league’s sixth best total offense but lagged behind defensively.
Nevertheless, the Chiefs opened the game as favorites by just a point-and-a-half in the hopes that their high-powered receiving corps could overcome the Niners led by Jimmy Garoppolo.
Neither quarterback had truly won a Super Bowl up to that point. Garoppolo had two rings with the New England Patriots, but sat on the sidelines watching Tom Brady work his magic. For Patrick Mahomes, this was his first trip to the big game.
By halftime, honors were all even at 10-10. Robbie Gould knocked through a field goal for San Francisco to take the lead at 3-0 before the Chiefs marched down to the goal line and Mahomes scrambled in for a touchdown. Harrison Butker knocked through a field goal of his own and the Niners punched in a touchdown of their own with a pass to Kyle Juszczyk.
Out of the half, Gould took a three-point advantage with a field goal to make it 13-10 and Raheem Mostert punched in a TD later in the third quarter to make it a 20-10 lead for San Francisco.
From there, it was all Kansas City. Despite a Mahomes interception early in the fourth quarter, the quarterback was able to string together some strong drives for success. On the goal line, he found Travis Kelce for a touchdown. For the Chiefs’ next drive, he dumped off a pass for Damien Williams who took it in for a 24-20 lead.
With under two minutes to go, Garoppolo couldn’t string together a punctuating final drive and turned the ball over on downs. Williams responded with a long touchdown scamper. A late Chiefs interception sealed the 31-20 victory as Kansas City won its first Super Bowl in 50 years.
A deadlocked first half eventually gave way to a narrow San Francisco lead in the third quarter
But a connection in the end zone to Kelce was one of three fourth quarter TDs to win for KC
Where did the two teams go from there?
Kansas City would reach the championship game again the following season, but fell in Super Bowl LV against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 2021 saw the Chiefs reach the AFC Championship once again, only to be cast aside by Joe Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals at home.
But they found redemption in 2022 – clinching the No. 1 seed and winning Super Bowl LVII in Arizona over the Philadelphia Eagles.
As for the 49ers, their 2020 season was defined by serious injuries to starters like Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Richard Sherman, and Nick Bosa. They finished 6-10 and missed the playoffs. The following season they bounced back and ran to the NFC Championship. Much like the Chiefs, they fell to the Los Angeles Rams and ended their season there.
2022 was a season of hardship for San Francisco. After trying to implement immediate change at quarterback by starting Trey Lance, the former third-overall pick got injured early in the season. Garoppolo stepped in for a period of time before he too went down with a season ending injury.
That left the Niners no choice but to start Brock Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 draft, for the rest of the season. Purdy performed better than any ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ before and brought San Francisco to the NFC Championship game. There, he tore his UCL, but continued to play when his backup Josh Johnson went down with a concussion. Philadelphia easily beat the Niners to reach the Super Bowl.
Mahomes (L) and Kelce (R) had plenty more to celebrate, winning another Super Bowl in 2022
Meanwhile, the Niners saw injuries impact their seasons in 2020 and again in 2022
How are both teams different now than from a few years ago?
Kansas City has shown the most change between the two teams – but not in a way that’s entirely beneficial to them.
The biggest change is on the defensive side of the ball. Chris Jones is the only player currently on the defensive roster that started in Super Bowl LIV. Thankfully, the rest of the defense is much stronger.
Jones, a defensive lineman, is joined by George Karlaftis, Neil Farrell, and Mike Danna in the front four. 2019’s linebacking corps of Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, and Reggie Ragland has been replaced by a much stronger group of Willie Gay, Nick Bolton, and Drue Tranquill. Cornerbacks like L’Jaruis Sneed and Trent McDuffie replace Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland while Justin Reid and Mike Edwards round out the current secondary.
But offensively, the Chiefs look much different – and not necessarily in a good way. Tyreek Hill was the top receiver in Super Bowl LIV, hauling in 9 catches for 105 yards. The second-best pass catcher was Sammy Watkins who nabbed five catches for 98. Then came Travis Kelce who got 43 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
Now, the Chiefs receiving corps is vastly different and not nearly as good. Hill and Watkins are replaced by Rashee Rice and Justin Watson – with Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney deputizing. Kelce has stepped up, but he’s the only elite target Mahomes has.
The most notable differences from 2019 are the absences of Tyreek Hill and Jimmy Garoppolo
With Hill gone, Kelce has been the only truly elite target that Mahomes can throw to in 2023
The 49ers have their fair share of changes as well. Offensively, Purdy mans the quarterback spot while Garoppolo plays for the Las Vegas Raiders. Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Kyle Juszczyk remain major contributors to the Niners and will play in their second Super Bowl.
But outside Purdy, the biggest change offensively is running back Christian McCaffrey. While Mostert was reliable, McCaffrey is a true threat that put up an MVP caliber season in 2023.
Defensively, the 49ers have only gotten better. Last time, their front four of Nick Bosa, Sheldon Day, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead were their most fearsome unit. Now, the team has swapped Day and Buckner for two even scarier pass rushers in Chase Young and Javon Hargrave.
Linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw return from the Super Bowl LIV unit, this time joined by linebacker Oren Burks.
The secondary swapped an experienced unit of Richard Sherman, Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, and Jaquiski Tartt for a more mixed group. Cornerback Charvarius Ward swapped the 2019 Chiefs for the 2023 Niners and is joined by third year corner Deommodore Lenoir. As for the safeties, 12 year veteran Tashaun Gipson is flanked by Ji’Ayir Brown, a rookie out of Penn State.
San Francisco offensive weapons George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk are still on the team
But now the Niners have ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ Brock Purdy at the helm of the offense in 2023
What could we expect this time?
The last two games Mahomes and the Chiefs have played have been their two best of the season, so Kansas City is rolling hot coming into Super Bowl LVIII. Inversely, the 49ers defense has been internally criticized for its lack of effort at times in their two past playoff games.
That being said, if things go back to normal, it could truly spell trouble for the Chiefs. They have not played a unit as defensively talented as the Niners are and that could be an issue when it comes to the big game.
If the 49ers defense can make Mahomes’ night a nightmare, then the offense should be able to carry the weight of the team to the promised land.
But if nothing changes from how both units have played we could be in for either more Chiefs domination or a comeback attempt from the 49ers once again.