Natrone Means had the best season of his seven-year NFL career in 1994, running for 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the San Diego Chargers to Super Bowl XXIX. The 5-foot-10, 245-pound Means was built for running between the tackles and short-yardage situations, ranking second in the NFL for rushing first downs with 79.

The Chargers somehow managed to forget that on their first possession against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 29, 1995 in Miami. The 49ers needed three plays to score on their first possession with Steve Young lofting a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. If there was ever a time for the Chargers not to go three and out, this had to be it.

Means was the obvious choice to carry the ball on third-and-1 with the Chargers at their 24-yard line. The Chargers opted to have Stan Humphries throw a pass to Shawn Jefferson. It was incomplete. By the time the Chargers got the ball again, the 49ers led 14-0.

It was 14-7 after Means scored on a 1-yard run (so he could gain a yard), but the 49ers followed with two touchdowns to leave the halftime show as the only entertainment remaining in a 49-26 victory. One first-quarter play did not doom the Chargers, but throwing the ball on that play was a costly call.

Super Bowl XXIX was hardly the place for the Chargers to try to be clever. Means should have had the ball even if the 49ers expected he would. A first down would have allowed the Chargers to believe they were in the game if only for another minute or two. And their defense was still smoldering after being burned by Rice and Young.

What does this mean 29 years after the 49ers claimed their fifth championship? They were seek their sixth title Feb. 11 because the Detroit Lions called the wrong play at the worst possible time in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. And just like the Chargers, the Lions paid a hefty price.

The 49ers trailed 24-10 after Jake Moody kicked a 43-yard field goal on their first possession in the second half. The Lions marched 47 yards on their ensuing possession before facing a fourth-and-2 at the 49ers’ 28-yard line. A field goal would have restored the three-possession margin, but coach Dan Campbell loves to go for it.

And think of all the weapons Campbell had at his disposal – David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Montgomery and Gibbs combined to average 5 yards a carry. LaPorta and St. Brown combined to catch 16 passes for 184 yards, an average of 11.5 yards per reception. Those four were the safest bets.

Josh Reynolds was the unlikeliest. The 49ers were flirting with momentum and the Lions put their faith in a receiver who was targeted just 40 times in the regular season. Reynolds dropped the pass and had barely made it to the Lions bench when Brock Purdy capped a five-play, 72-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk.

The 49ers needed just 1:41 to make the Lions pay for going to Reynolds with better options available. To lose without Montgomery, Gibbs, LaPorta or St. Brown getting the ball on a key play will have the Lions scratching their heads until next season kicks off. They have never been to the Super Bowl and who knows when they will be this close again.

The Chargers have reached the AFC Championship Game just once since winning it in 1994. The Lions made it to the NFC title game for the first time since 1992. Reynolds will turn 29 on Feb. 16. Hopefully he will still be playing by the time they make it again.