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Now, it’s Kyle Shanahan’s turn to carry the weight of failed expectations – Saints Wire

Feb 5th, 2020

MIAMI For years, the knock on Andy Reid was that, though nobody in the world contested his ability to put together an effective offense, perhaps he was just too much to be a Super Bowl-winning coach. Too interested in his offense at the expense of defense. Too caught up in play design to realize how important clock management was. Too lenient with toxic personalities who could tear his teams apart.

And so, until last night when Reids Chiefs beat the 49ers, 31-20, in Super Bowl LIV, Reid was at best an afterthought when it came time to discuss the greatest NFL head coaches. Now, people will see Reids 207 regular-season wins, seventh-best in league history, and his 15 postseason wins, sixth-best of all time, and put them in a different light. There is absolutely no doubt about that. Reid punched his ticket to Canton at Hard Rock Stadium, and all the questions about him evaporated in the cool Miami air.

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan now unwillingly has taken Reids old spot as the coach whose offensive mastery is unquestioned and unrivaled, but whose decision-making has left those same offenses gasping for breath at the most crucial times. Shanahan was, of course, Atlantas offensive coordinator in Super Bowl LI, when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead; Shanahan took his foot off the gas, and the Patriots won the only overtime Super Bowl.

The 49ers didnt hold it against Shanahan when they gave him a six-year contract to be their head coach on Feb. 6, 2017, one day after that Super Bowl loss. Nor should they have. They wouldnt have ascended to Super Bowl LIV without him. They were 2-14 under Chip Kelly the prior season, with quite possibly the worst assemblage of offensive talent in the league. It was Shanahans combination of a multiple, diverse run game and route concepts that were impossible to consistently stop that helped take his 49ers from 4-12 in 2018 when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt, to 13-3, the first seed in the NFC, and a real chance to bring home the franchises sixth Lombardi Trophy. Shanahans 49ers, with his snappy offense and shutdown defense, were up in the game by 20-10 at one point, and Shanahan seemed to be ready to exorcise the weight of 28-3 forever.

Then, Patrick Mahomes went postnuclear, and Shanahan found himself on the wrong end of another blown double-digit lead in the Super Bowl. It is now what defines him, for better or worse, fairly or unfairly.

Not that it was all his fault. Garoppolo, whose own limitations were shown in sharp relief, threw two interceptions and missed receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a third-and-10 deep pass with 1:40 left in the game. That was a sure touchdown if thrown precisely; with the 49ers down by four points at the time, we would be talking about an entirely different 27-24 game if it was.

Asked after the game how close he was to catching that pass, Sanders lost his patience.

How close do you think I was? Sanders asked rhetorically. Thats a dumb question.

Well, yeah. Garoppolo took a sack on the next play, and that was that. The 49ers got the ball back after Chiefs running back Damien Williams roasted San Franciscos defense for a 38-yard touchdown run with 1:20 remaining, but there was no way Garoppolo was going to make himself responsible for 11 or more points in that amount of time. Its just not who he is.

San Franciscos defense shares the blame for revealing vulnerabilities that allowed the Chiefs to score three touchdowns in five minutes in the latter half of the fourth quarter. But in the end, it was Shanahans questionable decisions that put his team on its heels even as it was dominating the early parts of the game.

With 1:53 left in the first half and facing third-and-14, Patrick Mahomes threw a 1-yard completion to Williams. The Chiefs then ran the clock down to 1:08 before they punted. Why didnt Shanahan call a timeout there to give his team more time to score?

They had three timeouts; it was 10-10, Shanahan explained after the game. The last thing I wanted to do is allow them to get the ball with three timeouts, especially with their quarterback and offensive speed, to go in there and score before the half. Felt real good 10-10, with us starting (the second half) with the ball. Thought it played out all right. Thought we shouldve got points. But they end up calling that PI on [tight end George] Kittle.

We were good with that situation. Very good. I would do that every single time, especially with us starting with the ball in the third quarter. Once we realized we did get the first (down), we did take the shot. We wouldve gotten points. But we got that unfortunate penalty.

Shanahans rationale reminded me of what Texans head coach Bill OBrien said regarding the ill-fated fake punt he called in the divisional round against the Chiefs, in which Kansas City came back from a 24-0 deficit to win, 51-31. OBrien was castigated for settling for a field goal when his team was already up 21-0, and then blasted on the other side for going nuts when he thought his team would need to score at will to keep up with the Chiefs furious barrage. In both cases, fear of what Mahomes could do took Kansas Citys opponents out of their games. Shanahan joined OBrien as coaches who put themselves in Andy Reids pocket.

We felt like we had to manufacture some points, manufacture some yards, and it just didnt work out, OBrien concluded.

The 49ers got the ball back from the Chiefs with 59 seconds left in the first half, and all three timeouts in Shanahans pocket. He called two Raheem Mostert runs that gained a total of five yards and bled 39 seconds off the clock. Then, on third-and-5, Shanahan finally let the dogs out. Garoppolo hit running back Jeff Wilson Jr. for a 20-yard gain, and then, there was the 42-yard pass to Kittle that would have put the ball at the Kansas City 13-yard line with 14 seconds left on the clock were it not for a controversial offensive pass interference call that the NFLs officiating arm tried to explain with alacrity.

So, with six seconds left in the first half, Garoppolo knelt to run out the clock, and the 49ers walked to the locker room with a 10-10 tie when they could have had the lead.

There was a shot on the game telecast where 49ers general manager John Lynch was shown in a luxury suite, giving the timeout signal, seemingly begging his coach to stop the clock. Didnt happen.

With 9:34 left in the third quarter, at the end of the 49ers first drive of the second half, Shanahan called for kicker Robbie Gould to boot a 42-yard field goal when his offense had fourth-and-2 from the Kansas City 24-yard line. Why didnt he put the ball in Garoppolos hands for one more shot?

I thought about it for a little bit there, he said. Probably wouldve if it was less than one [yard]. Thought it was closer to two. Robbies automatic, and our defense was playing pretty good at this time.

Again, an OBrien-esque constraint in response to the fear that Mahomes was about to let loose.

And then, when the Chiefs started their furious comeback, it was Shanahan, the guy with the running game that couldnt be stopped all season, who decided to throw the ball all over the joint. San Franciscos final two offensive drives lasted 1:25 and 57 seconds, and the second one ended with a Garoppolo interception courtesy of Chiefs cornerback Kyle Fuller.

No, not at all, he said when asked if he should have run the ball late to bleed the clock as the Chiefs began to take over the game. The clocks not an issue at that time, especially with the timeouts left. The issue is moving the chains. If you move the chains, then you will move the clock.

But they didnt, and they couldnt, and Shanahan has to live with that. In the two most remarkable comebacks in Super Bowl history, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes were the capital GOATs, and Shanahan was the lowercase goat.

More than one 49ers player mentioned this week that, in previous practice and game situations, Shanahan has been maniacal about keeping the coal in the fire no matter the situation. It was as if he were haunted by 28-3, fiercely determined to never let it happen again. And then, with the ability to shut that history down perhaps Shanahan became too precious with the thought of it? Reid certainly didnt he talked over and over through the postseason about the faith he had in his players, and how that allowed him to do whatever he wanted, no matter the situation.

Not that it matters now. Shanahan has devils on both shoulders, and when he starts next season throwing his marvelous offense out on the field once again, cynics will be talking about what didnt happen. Twice. Over and over. Until and unless hes able to get past it in another Super Bowl, Kyle Shanahan has taken the weight of failed expectations from Andy Reid like a Lombardi Trophy cast in negative image.

Touchdown Wire editor Doug Farrar previously covered football for Yahoo! Sports, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, the Washington Post, and Football Outsiders. His first book, The Genius of Desperation, a schematic history of professional football, was published by Triumph Books in 2018 and won the Professional Football Researchers AssociationsNelson Ross Awardfor Outstanding recent achievement in pro football research and historiography.

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Now, it's Kyle Shanahan's turn to carry the weight of failed expectations - Saints Wire

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