Shanahan to Blame for Super Bowl Loss

Ryan Nickerson

*Articles reflect the views of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the views of CCBC or the CCBC Connection.

It was Feb. 11, 2024. the San Francisco 49ers just scored a fantastic trick play touchdown to go up 10-0 with a little over four minutes left in the second quarter. 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan is on the sidelines smiling at the success, but little does he know that within a couple of hours he will relive an all too familiar nightmare and there is no one else to blame but himself.

First, let’s look at how the 49ers got here. San Francisco had an impressive 12-5 record that got them the first seed in the playoffs. They had close encounters with the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions but survived to make the Super Bowl where they faced the Kansas City Chiefs. It was going to be a close matchup. The Chiefs were rocky at some points in the season but had gained some momentum in the playoffs to make the Super Bowl.

The game started off quickly. The 49ers were putting together a good drive and looked guaranteed to have at least three points until running back Christian McCaffrey fumbled the ball giving the Chiefs a decent break. Not much to blame on Shanahan yet as this sort of thing is not a regular occurrence for their star running back. Also, the reliable 49er defense stopped the Chiefs quickly. Eventually, the 49er offense managed to score a record-long field goal from kicker Jake Moody from 55 yards. It looked like the Chiefs were geared to respond as they were close to the endzone until their star running back Isiah Pacheco had his own fumble.

This leads us back to where we started with the trick play touchdown where San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy threw to wide receiver Jauan Jennings who then threw it again to McCaffrey for the touchdown to put the 49ers up by 10.

Kyle Shanahan looked like a genius who could finally win his first Super Bowl.

The Chiefs got the ball back before halftime and made good progress but had to settle for a field goal by their kicker Harrison Butker. After halftime the teams came back out to play, and the 49ers got an interception by their safety Ji’Ayir Brown which seemed like it could have sealed the game.

However, the 49ers could not capitalize, and the Chiefs were able to put together a record breaking 57-yard field goal by Butker that broke Moody’s record from earlier in the night. Just like that the score was 10-6 with the 49ers still leading. San Francisco struggled to answer back but seemed to have caught a break when their defense came up with a stop. The Chiefs punted the ball away and it bounced off a 49er player’s foot that counted as a fumble that they did not pick up. Then the Chiefs scored a touchdown on a tired 49er defense to give them the lead for the first time of the night 13-10.

This ended a very eventful and worrying third quarter for Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers were able to get off to a good start in the fourth quarter with Purdy throwing a short touchdown pass to Jennings to reclaim the lead. However, right when it seemed like everything was looking up for San Francisco it came crashing down as Moody had his extra point blocked which only left them with a three-point lead.

The Chiefs were able to respond with yet another field goal from Butker which tied the game 16-16. The 49ers did just enough to score a field goal with 1:53 remaining to make it 19-16. However, this left more than enough time for the Chiefs to gain yardage against a tired 49er defense and they almost scored a touchdown but had to settle for a field goal to make the game go into overtime.

Overtime is familiar for Shanahan as this was his second time playing overtime in the Super Bowl. The first being in Super Bowl LI (51) in 2017. Back then he was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons who blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots and lost in overtime with a score of 34-28.

This was the first time Kyle Shanahan blew a lead in the playoffs but would not be the last.

Shanahan left Atlanta to become the 49ers' head coach and made the Super Bowl in 2020 against none other than the Chiefs. In this game they blew a 20-10 lead going into the fourth quarter and lost 31-20. Then finally in the NFC Championship in 2022 the 49ers blew a 17-7 lead to the Los Angeles Rams and lost 20-17.

Shanahan can’t seem to hold the lead and overcome these demons, but he had a chance to redeem his past on this particular night.

Now with Shanahan’s past in mind let’s see how he tackled overtime. He decided to take the ball first. This was a bad move for the simple reason that the team that goes second can just end the game. It’s easier to play knowing what you need to get than just relying on a tired worn-down defense to stop the other team for you. This showed when the 49ers played it cautiously and decided to just go for a field goal and in response the Chiefs once again destroyed the 49ers' tired defense to score the game winning touchdown.

Even Patrick Mahomes and other Chiefs players were shocked they chose to take the ball first. Later, 49er players admitted they didn’t know the overtime rules.

Now there was a lot of bad luck. "Dre" Greenlaw, a star defender on the 49ers tore his achilles as he prepared to go on the field. The fumble on the punt and the blocked extra point; also unlucky. However, the 49ers offense failed to capitalize and score on numerous occasions and that lies on Shanahan who also doubles as the offensive coordinator for the team.

They failed to score after their defense stopped one of the best offenses in the league even when they got the interception and the fumble. Then, on Feb 14 the 49ers had the audacity to fire Steve Wilks as their defensive coordinator when he held one of the best offenses in the league to 19 points in four quarters.

This is on Shanahan for not taking advantage of opportunities and only leading a high-powered offense to 22 points for the entire game. Shanahan has shown yet again that he cannot perform in the big games and the window for him winning a Super Bowl may have just slammed shut. He is to blame. He again proved his doubters right by failing to maintain a lead and winning a big game. His offense disappeared late in the game just like they’ve done in every other collapse.

The one-year defensive coordinator was not the problem. Kyle Shanahan is, and the sooner the 49ers recognize that the better.

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