MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Another grand stage, another letdown, and more second-guessing that will hang over Kyle Shanahan for an offseason.
The third-year San Francisco head coach had seemingly pushed all of the right buttons while steering his team to a 13-3 record and a postseason run that put the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
But after erasing a first-half deficit and taking a second-half lead, Shanahan saw another shot at a Lombardi Trophy slip from his grasp as the Kansas City Chiefs came back to win 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Once again, an offense under his direction couldn’t seal the deal despite a season’s worth of work that had drawn rave reviews.
The circumstances were different this time around.
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Unlike Super Bowl LI when the Atlanta Falcons, for whom Shanahan served as offensive coordinator, took a 28-3 second-half lead over the New England Patriots and then collapsed 34-28, Shanahan’s 49ers didn’t have nearly as comfortable a lead.
And unlike that Super Bowl LI showing, Shanahan hadn’t cost his team with overly aggressive play-calling.
This time, he seemingly was too conservative in his play calls. He remained measured and calculated in his approach during that second-quarter comeback, and in the third quarter when the 49ers took a 20-10 lead.
But the offensive efficiency evaporated, and a defense that recorded third-quarter interceptions fell flat, enabling Patrick Mahomes and his offense to roar to life.
Balance had been the key all season long for the 49ers, and sticking with the run game is the very thing that helped them regain their footing in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. But an inability to generate big plays in the second half proved costly.
A combined 141 rushing yards weren’t enough to keep the Chiefs at bay. A 3-for-8 showing on third downs didn’t ensure the time of possession edge that the 49ers needed.
In the end, a defense that had set the tone for the 49ers all season, couldn’t come through when they needed it most.
Is it fair that Shanahan will receive questions about his team’s inability to hold a lead? Yes and no. But because of his history, that’s how the narrative will go, and he’ll have to wait another year to try to change it.
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