When the 49ers beat the Seahawks in the final regular-season game, they earned a first-round playoff bye.
That bye may have been the key to getting to this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
The extra week of rest allowed the Niners defense to get healthy again. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, safety Jaquiski Tartt and defensive end Dee Ford were able to have more days to get back on the field. The 49ers then went out and posted convincing victories over the Vikings and Packers to earn the trip to Miami for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Chiefs.
As Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com noted, with those three key players back, the San Francisco pass rush recovered its early-season ferocity and the unit in general regained its form. In those games, the 49ers had a combined nine sacks and gave up an average of just 14 first downs, 41.5 rushing yards and 252.5 total yards.
With Ford back on the field, the pass rush now has two terrific playmakers on the edge (with Nick Bosa on the opposite side). That means the 49ers don’t need to blitz much, yet can put pressure on quarterbacks with just its four linemen, leaving seven players for pass coverage, writes Adam Stites of SB Nation.
In those two playoff games, Ford had a sack, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
Early in the season – with Alexander, Tartt and Ford healthy – the 49ers held opponents to an average of 11 points and 224.4 yards per game, while allowing a passer rating of just 57.5. But after midseason, without the trio, San Francisco gave up an average of 25.9 points and 326.4 yards per game and a passer rating of 98.8.
Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner says the trio’s return is one reason the 49ers are so confident going into Super Bowl LIV.
"That bye week was key, you know, getting the No. 1 seed, having home-field advantage, all of it, it was a big key ingredient for us and our success," Buckner told reporters in Miami this week. "Having the guys back who came back from injury who were out a majority of the year, having them back brings that chemistry back and also the dominance. Even the guys who played a lot, we can really get our legs back under us and everything. The ceiling is high with this team."
Sunday’s Super Bowl is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff (Bay Area time).