MIAMI — The 49ers have faced some quality opponents this season, but Sunday might present them with their greatest challenge of the campaign.
It should be. It is the Super Bowl, after all.
Kansas City’s offense was known for its explosiveness before these playoffs, but the fashion in which the Chiefs have won their way to Miami has been shocking.
Down 24-0 at home? No problem — here’s 51 points to wipe that out. Down 17-7 to a team that is very capable of controlling the clock the rest of the way? Not to worry, Patrick Mahomes will fix that in a jiffy.
The 49ers know their opponent brings the juice. But the 49ers also have Richard Sherman, king of confidence and keeper of those who have slighted him or his teammates — or in Wednesday’s case, the teams his squad has already conquered.
“I don’t know. It’ll be a great challenge for sure, but to say it’s the greatest challenge would almost be a disrespect to some of the great passing games we’ve played, because we’ve played some outstanding passing teams this year,” Sherman said. “We’ve played the Saints and everything that Drew Brees had to bring. We played Tampa Bay and early on in the season with their two 1,000-yard receivers and everything that they brought. We played the Rams and Sean (McVay) and his system and how they get things done and played them twice.
“We played some teams that can sling it around pretty good, some quarterbacks that can sling it, some receivers that are really talented. We also played Atlanta with Matt (Ryan) and Julio (Jones) and they’re outstanding. But these guys are fast and they’re talented, so it’ll be a great challenge, for sure.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid will have the benefit of the bye week to prepare for the 49ers‘ No. 1 ranked pass defense, and history says that’s an advantage. Reid is 23-5 in games after a bye (including playoffs), has Super Bowl coaching experience and is also calling the shots for a top-three scoring offense that averages 383.6 yards per game. Of that total, 283.7 yards have come through the air. And even if San Francisco’s stout front seven can force third-and-long situations, the Chiefs own a near-50 percent third-down conversion rate (47.3 percent).
That means the onus will fall on the shoulders of Sherman and his fellow defensive backs, who will be tasked with not only blanketing speedy Chiefs pass-catchers, but also plastering to them in situations in which the ever-mobile Mahomes — you know, the reigning NFL MVP — escapes the pocket and extends the play.
Sherman is the last player on earth to have a lack of confidence in such a situation, though, no matter the opponent. With two Super Bowl appearances and one ring to show for it already on his resume, he packs the credentials to back up his confidence. Now it will be up to him and his teammates to prove their legitimacy on the game’s grandest stage.
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