The first touchdown of Super Bowl LVIII came in rather unexpected fashion.
With the San Francisco 49ers driving into Kansas City Chiefs’ territory, they faced a 2nd and 10 at the Chiefs’ 21-yard line. That’s when quarterback Brock Purdy took the shotgun snap and, after faking a handoff to running back Christian McCaffrey, threw a screen pass to wide receiver Jauan Jennings along the left side.
At this point we should note that Jennings was a four-star recruit as a quarterback when he enrolled at Tennessee, before converting to wide receiver.
Jennings caught the backwards throw from Purdy and immediately looked downfield, for a target in the passing game. He did find a target ... McCaffrey, as the 49ers were setting up a screen to the RB back on the right side of the field:
21 yards later, the 49ers were out to a 10-0 lead.
As you can see from this angle, perhaps the biggest block on the play comes from Spencer Burford, (#74). Linebacker Nick Bolton (#32) has a read on the play and is breaking on the throw, which is high. But Burford gets just enough on Bolton to hold him up, giving McCaffrey a chance to make the catch, and finish the play for the game’s opening touchdown:
And as you can see from this visual from Next Gen Stats, this call was set up perfectly for McCaffrey. Just look at the open grass in front of McCaffrey on this play:
Jauan Jennings & Christian McCaffrey (21-yd TD) ️— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 12, 2024
McCaffrey had a 58.4% chance of scoring when he caught the ball according to the NGS expected YAC model, the 2nd-most probable TD reception caught behind the LOS outside the 25-yard line this season.
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The play marks the first touchdown pass thrown by a WR since the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL, when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El — who was a quarterback at Indiana — connected with Hines Ward on a 43-yard touchdown to help the Steelers ice the win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Randel El’s touchdown pass came in a winning effort, we’ll have to wait to see if Jennings’ TD toss also comes in a win.
And for the record, Jennings was a higher-graded recruit than both Joe Burrow, and Sam Darnold, his current 49ers teammate.