LAS VEGAS — The 49ers’ big investment in their defensive line fell short in the biggest moment.
Borrowing a script that the Buccaneers used to beat Patrick Mahomes in a Super Bowl earlier in his career, the 49ers frequently had the two-time MVP abandoning the pocket and looking for receivers to throw in the vicinity of to avoid intentional ground penalties for three quarters.
And then Mahomes coolly led the Chiefs to the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation and the game-winning touchdown in overtime, stealing a 25-22 victory from the 49ers at Allegiant Stadium.
“We gave it all we had,” defensive tackle Arik Armstead said. “It’s a hard task to chase around Mahomes. He puts a lot of pressure on you.”
No team is more invested in the defensive line than the 49ers, who spent a league-high $61.1 million on their defensive line this season, according to Spotrac.
It looked like it for most of the game.
Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to avoid a sack by Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter. Getty Images
And then these plays happened in overtime:
After stopping a third-and-1, no one spied Mahomes on a fourth-and-1 read-option keeper for a first down that had Nick Bosa pointing to his teammates asking who was supposed to fill the open space.
On a third-and-6, there was no pressure in the pocket when Mahomes hit Rashee Rice for a first down.
On a third-and-1, Mahomes again beat the defensive line with his legs, running up the middle to set up the winning touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman.
Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs is tackled by Chase Young #92 of the San Francisco 49ers. Getty Images
One more play would’ve made several standout performances more impressive.
Armstead, the longest-tenured 49er since 2015, had a sack.
So did Javon Hargrave the $90 million free-agent addition from last offseason, who also recovered a fumble in the first half.
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So did Chase Young, the former No. 2-overall pick in the draft who general manager John Lynch parted with a draft pick to acquire as a half-season rental in October.
And, of course, the biggest game-wrecker of them all, Bosa, made his presence felt with two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.
One year ago, the Eagles’ vaunted defensive line didn’t sack Mahomes and it allowed the quarterback to have a huge fourth-quarter comeback.
Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs tries to avoid being tackled by Arik Armstead #91 and Javon Hargrave #98 of the San Francisco 49ers. Getty Images
But Mahomes infamously scrambled for more than 500 yards behind the line of scrimmage when the Chiefs lost, 31-9, to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021.
The game plan cooked up by 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks called for no blitzes in the first half, as the 49ers were able to disrupt the pocket with just the front four.
That allowed the shorthanded 49ers — three starting defensive backs were sidelined by late in regulation — to have coverage on the back end beyond the typical amount of time and forced Mahomes to throw an interception to safety Ji’Ayir Brown in the third quarter.
But Mahomes got the last laugh.