George Kittle is as disappointed in the outcome of Super Bowl LIV as is he fueled by it. The All-Pro tight end declared in the waning moments of the San Francisco 49ers loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, and what happened late in the second quarter is undoubtedly adding fuel to his raging internal inferno. And speaking of flames rising from fury, Hall of Fame receivers Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens join Kittle in being furious about that very same thing, considering it likely took points off of the board for their former team.
On the 49ers' last drive of the first half, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo dropped back on third-and-5 and connected with a streaking Kittle down the middle of the field for a 42-yard gain that would've given them a chance to go up 13-10 entering halftime. The only problem was the laundry on the field, tossed by an official who penalized Kittle for offensive pass interference, negating the longest pass of the game for the 49ers and forcing them into halftime with a 10-10 tie.
They'd go on to increase that lead to 20-10, but collapsed late in the fourth quarter when later-named Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes and the quick-strike Chiefs offense scored three times to complete the 31-20 comeback victory.
The league took to Twitter to explain why Kittle was flagged on the play.
Needless to say, the explanation fell on deaf ears, for while head coach Kyle Shanahan was devouring the official's ear in an anger-laden epilogue, Rice was also visibly upset by the call. Speaking to 95.7 The Game's "Jo, Lo and Dibs" show following The Big Game, the 49ers legend pulled no punches in his assessment of the Super Bowl officiating.
"We had some bad calls too against us," he said, via SFGate.com. "The one right with Kittle right before halftime. I'm like, 'Are you serious? Come on!' I understand if you really extend your arm, but let the players play."
That's not the only one he's keying in on, though.
"Then the one with, I think, Kelce -- that interference," Rice said. "Then the one that, I guess, was a touchdown with [Damien Williams]. I felt he stepped out of bounds before he stuck the ball over the pylon."
You be the judge.
That said, Rice isn't pointing solely at the refs for the 49ers collapse. The team had obvious opportunities to win -- given they had the lead for most of the second half -- and could've also retaken the lead if not for a sailed pass by Garoppolo that went over the head of a wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-10 with only 1 minute and 40 seconds left in the game. The Chiefs only had a four-point lead at that point, and absent that possible walk-off touchdown, Garoppolo was sacked on fourth down and Kansas City struck one final time to bury the 49ers for good with a game-sealing touchdown by Williams.
Rice knows the refs didn't throw that ball on third down, or fail to protect Garoppolo on fourth, or allow Williams to nail the coffin.
"You can't make excuses or anything like [those penalties, though]," he admitted. "We had a chance. We lost the game probably in the last five minutes. We were right in the ball game.
"It was devastating for me. It's something that I can't get over right now. It's going to take a while, and I'm hoping it's the same way for the players."
As for Owens, it's all about pointing to the NFC wild card, when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the New Orleans Saints on a walk-off touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph -- wherein a penalty for offensive pass interference was not called despite what many viewed as Rudolph pushing off of his defender to create space.
Simply put, Owens says it's unfair.
"I question that call because that call was the same situation -- you look at the Vikings and the Saints game," he said. "When Kyle Rudolph caught the touchdown in the end zone, it's a similar situation where he basically pressed out to gain an advantage to catch the ball. There was no difference in what Kittle did, and that play there. The NFL should be ashamed of themselves.
"There's no consistency in those calls."
Despite it all,bouncing back next season, and Kittle will be a driving force to potentially seeing that goal materialize. History isn't on their side in that regard, but they'll nonetheless get back to work soon on trying to fix all that went wrong on their end, while also mentally and emotionally working through what they feel was a poor game by the officials -- in the biggest game of the season.