Poor Kyle Shanahan. Two Super Bowl appearances, and two seemingly insurmountable leads blown. Up 20-10 with under seven minutes to go in the game, the San Francisco 49ers seemed like they had the Super Bowl in the bag. But then everything came crashing down in an all-too-familiar fashion for Shanahan.
Now, Shanahan is a great coach. This is not a hate piece on him, whatsoever. I’m simply acknowledging that two out of the three biggest fourth quarter comebacks in Super Bowl history have come against teams that Shanahan was an integral part of.
He was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, better known as the 28-3 game, when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots came back from being down 25 at the two-minute mark of the third quarter to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime. Many people blame Shanahan’s overly-aggressive play calling, which pushed the Falcons out of field goal range at one point in the fourth quarter, as the main culprit for that collapse.
Fast forward three years and Shanahan’s team held another fourth-quarter lead, albeit not as large, but with even less time remaining. Then the Kansas City Chiefs, led by eventual MVP Patrick Mahomes, stormed back to take the lead as the 49ers offense fell flat on its face.
It was all too similar to Shanahan’s previous Super Bowl, where an offense that seemed to be moving the ball well all game just couldn’t close out the game with a few first downs. Right away, the comparisons started, and I came across one of the craziest stats I’ve ever seen: In the fourth quarter (and overtime) of Super Bowls, Shanahan’s teams have been outscored 46-0.
There have been 3 teams in Super Bowl history to lose a 10-point 4th quarter lead. Kyle Shanahan called the offensive plays for 2 of them.
After the 10-minute mark in the 4th quarter, Shanahan’s teams were outscored a combined 46-0 (including OT of Super Bowl LI). pic.twitter.com/j1a5cGXTKu
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 3, 2020
That’s a ridiculous stat; one that is painful to be on the wrong side of.
Once again, I respect Shanahan as a coach. His offense helped make Matt Ryan an MVP in Atlanta, and he brought the 49ers from the NFC West basement to the brink of a Super Bowl in just two years. His father Mike has a terrific track record as an NFL coach, including back-to-back Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos in the late 90s. I believe Shanahan has that kind of potential as well, but things just haven’t gone his way in the big game so far.
I think it’s unfair to put any serious blame on Shanahan for the collapses because ultimately it comes down to the players to execute, which both the Falcons and the 49ers were unable to do on either side of the ball.
Plus, you have to give credit to both the Patriots and Chiefs for their comebacks in those games. Both Brady and Mahomes overcame bad starts with remarkable fourth-quarter performances to lead their respective teams to victory. Their defenses locked down when they needed to as well.
So ultimately, I think the Patriots and Chiefs deserve more credit than Shanahan deserves blame, and if you’re going to put blame on anybody, it has to be the players. Jimmy Garoppolo, much like Ryan in Super Bowl LI, couldn’t make any plays down the stretch. And while part of that was due to good defense, some of it was just poor execution. Garoppolo had Emmanuel Sanders wide open down the field for what would have likely been the game-sealing touchdown, but he overthrew him by five yards.
The San Francisco defense also let Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins get wide open for huge gains to help fuel the comeback. When you miss opportunities for big plays and then hand them to the other team, you’re not going to win, and that’s exactly what happened in Miami on Sunday.
So while Shanahan’s name will be inevitably linked to choking away leads in the Super Bowl (at least until he wins one), I believe it is less his fault and more an unfortunate case of his teams not putting the game away, while his opponents executed perfectly down the stretch. I have no doubt that he will break through and win a Super Bowl in the near future, but until then, he’ll have to own the choker label, even if it’s a bit unfair.
Still, it’s tough luck for Shanahan. I can’t get over that stat: 46-0 in crunch time. That must be giving him nightmares. It’s going to be another long offseason for sure.