Only eight teams in NFL history have returned to the Super Bowl in consecutive years following a loss, with only two occurring within the last decade (Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and 2014 and New England Patriots in 2016 and 2017). It's undoubtedly a difficult task to return to the pinnacle of the NFL season, but if history has taught us anything, it's that some of the league's elite have proven that it's not an impossible feat.
San Francisco's star tight end George Kittle believes the 49ers have the right makeup to defy those "odds" in another run at the title. Kittle joined Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman on ESPN's First Take to defend the 49ers chances in fighting their way to February again.
"Our goal is to go back to the Super Bowl," Kittle said via a live call-in video. "I think that's every team's goal. But I think we personally have a great shot. We have great players. We have a great coaching staff. I think we have a great foundation to keep winning games. I think the hardest thing about football is figuring out how to win games. Last year, we won games in all shapes, sizes and forms, whether that was 9-0 (or) in a shootout with Drew Brees, but we found out ways to win. As long as we can keep doing that, I don't really see how we don't make it back."
San Francisco certainly will need some help returning to the title game. The 49ers lost veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency and also traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, two key pieces in San Francisco's success in 2019. Aside from both veterans, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan managed to keep the bulk of their roster intact.
The 49ers expect many of their young players to continue to progress in 2020. Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel are both coming off of standout first seasons in San Francisco and are expected to continue to develop in Year 2. Linebacker Fred Warner and wide receiver Kendrick Bourne are another example of two young players who made strides and helped solidify their roles last year.
Last season was Jimmy Garoppolo's first full season as an NFL starter. The quarterback, who took a lot of heat following the 49ers Super Bowl fallout, led the team to a 13-win season while sitting top five in the league in completion percentage (69.1) and led the NFL in third down conversions, completing 50 percent (65-of-130) of third-down pass attempts. A full year of experience coupled with immediate contributors through the draft should benefit Garoppolo and Co. in 2020.
"He got us to the Super Bowl," Kittle said of Garoppolo. "He goes out there and he performs week in and week out. He leads the league in third down percentage. He makes throws. He won us two games versus Arizona. He won us the Rams game at the end of the game. He won a shootout with Drew Brees, who in my opinion is one of the best quarterbacks to do it. I mean, he shows up every single week.
"Guys have bad plays. I've had my fair share of bad plays and his are just viewed more because he's a quarterback. He's the franchise quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers so people see that more. And he deals with it. He doesn't shy away from criticism. He had a great conversation after the Super Bowl. He was great with the media. He doesn't shy away. He's a leader through and through. He's a leader of this football team."
San Francisco's road to Tampa won't be easy, but the 49ers believe they have found a recipe for success. Kittle and the 49ers do not believe it will be hard for his team to rebound from the championship loss, despite an "uphill climb" to return as conference champions among an ever evolving NFC.
"I think every season is an uphill climb," Kittle added. "You got to go out there, you got to win every single game, every single week against really good competition. It's unfortunate we couldn't bring back Emmanuel (Sanders) and DeForest (Buckner). I'm happy for them. They deserve both contracts. They played really well all year. But I think we saw a very fantastic team. That's kudos to John Lynch (and) Coach Shanahan bringing guys to the team. We've got Nick Bosa still on the edge and I'm pretty sure he's one of the best D-linemen in the NFL, so I'm not really too worried about it."