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Pass Fail: Shanahan Flunks Another Super Test

Pass Fail: Shanahan Flunks Another Super Test

It wasn’t the most iconic moment of Super Bowl XXXII, not with John Elway being spun in circles and Terrell Davis playing with a migraine or newly-minted Steve Atwater playing the game of his life as the Broncos upset the heavily-favored Packers in San Diego, but for Shanahan Snr it was….

Like Shanahan Father….

But nonetheless, captured by an NFL Films microphone, there was Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, his team having just taken a 31-24 lead in the waning moments of the game, approached by his uncertain defensive coordinator on how to defend Brett Favre’s final foray toward the endzone.

Should be go to the prevent defense, the coordinator inquired. In such moments, this was the default setting for defenses all over the National Football League. But not this time, Shanahan said. His Broncos, four-time losers in their previous Super Bowl appearances, were not going to fall into the same old trap.


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“Do what you would usually do,” was Shanahan’s message. “Do what you’ve been doing all game.”

And, sure enough, it was heavy pressure on a fourth-down play that caused Favre to misfire, and the Broncos had their title.

Like Son…

Sadly, for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, the apple fell very far from the tree.

One of the main storylines heading into Super Bowl LIV was the Education of Kyle Shanahan. It was just a mere three years ago, when Shanahan was offensive coordinator in Atlanta, that the Falcons suffered the worst defeat in Super Bowl history, blowing a 28-3 fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots.

The critical sequence that Sunday in 2017 came late in the game, the Falcons clinging to a 28-20 lead and Julio Jones making the kind of insane catch that killed the Patriots in their two Super Bowl losses to the Giants.


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The Falcons were perfectly set up to run the ball three times, kill valuable clock and timeouts and kick a 35-ish yard field goal for an 11-point lead. But Shanahan choked on his clipboard and called pass plays on second and third down that resulted in sacks and penalties and a punt. The rest is history.

So now, in Miami, the 49ers were beginning to experience what the Texans and Titans had so painfully endured against the Chiefs earlier in the playoffs. Another double-digit fourth-quarter lead had been cut to 20-17 with 6:13 left, and now it was up to young Kyle, now the head coach, to guide the 49ers to their first Super Bowl title in 25 years.

Surely, as had been proclaimed all week, Shanahan has learned his lesson from the Patriots game. Surely now, with six minutes to go and he defense melting under the pressure of Patrick Mahomes, Shanahan would trust his vaunted running game to muscle down the clock and put the game away.

And sure enough, on first down, Raheem Mostert ran for five yards. Three or four more gashes like that, the 49ers would, at the minimum, have the field flipped and the clock down near two minutes – and perhaps forcing the Chiefs to burn timeouts.


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But then, on second down, Shanahan fell into the trap. In a way, maybe he was channeling his father from 23 years earlier. He did what he always does.

He threw the ball. Incomplete.

Then he threw again. Incomplete.

A mere 65 seconds off the clock, the 49ers punted, and Mahomes carved up the lilting San Francisco defense once again, this time to take the lead for good. In two Super Bowls, Shanahan’s teams have now been outscored after the third quarter, 52-0.

“Do what you would usually do.” It was supposed to mean run the ball like the 49ers had against the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

Instead, ”do what you always do,” meant make the worst possible play-calls at the worst possible time. Another painful lesson, but will Shanahan ever learn?

Jeff Goldberg is the former team reporter for the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football. Earlier in his career, Jeff covered the Boston Red Sox (2007-08) and UConn women’s basketball team (2001-06) for his hometown newspaper, The Hartford Courant. Jeff, who was also an editorial producer at from 2012-14, wrote two books about the UConn women: “Bird at the Buzzer” (2011) and “Unrivaled” (2015). He lives in San Diego with his wife, Susan, and good boi doggo, Rocky.

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