Kyle Shanahan talks TO strategy, late play calls in loss

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Kyle Shanahan is again leaving the host city of a Super Bowl without the sweet taste of victory.

The bitterness of this one might linger for longer.

Shanahan's team again blew a fourth-quarter lead in the sport's biggest game, and unlike last time around, he had to almost immediately face a throng of media members wondering what went wrong.

There were two key sequences where Shanahan moved in one direction when it might've been better for him to go in the other. The first came at the end of the first half, when Shanahan decided not to call a timeout to preserve enough time for his 49ers offense to try to score again before halftime, instead allowing the clock to tick down roughly 45 seconds ahead of a Chiefs punt with just over a minute left. He explained that it wasn't a matter of not being aggressive, but being cautious because of the firepower that existed on the other sideline.

"They had three timeouts; it was 10-10," Shanahan said after the 49ers' 31-20 loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. "The last thing we were going 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 especially with us starting with the ball. Kind of played out alright, thought we should have got points but they ended up calling that PI on [tight end George] Kittle. So took it away."

The penalty Shanahan referred to was a questionable offensive pass interference call on George Kittle, which negated a 42-yard completion that would've put the 49ers in excellent scoring position at the Kansas City 13-yard line with 0:14 to go before Shakira and Jennifer Lopez took over as the center of attention. Without that explosive play, Shanahan thought it best to take the tie to halftime before returning to receive the second-half kick.

As he said, it did work out -- sort of. San Francisco ended up kicking a field goal to cap its opening drive of the second half and take a 13-10 lead.

But then, the missed opportunity for points came back to haunt the 49ers when Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs on a frenzied comeback. Shanahan had a chance to hang on to his team's lead, though, even after it was trimmed from 10 to three at 20-17. All he had to do was get a handful of first downs.

Easier said than done, of course, but some might wonder if the coach overthought it in a pressure-packed situation. The Chiefs had just scored quickly to regain momentum and hope that they could in fact wipe out another double-digit deficit in the postseason. Shanahan responded by predictably handing the ball to Raheem Mostert on first down, and for a split-second, it looked like it might break for a huge gain. Mostert was cut down in the running lane, though, for a gain of five.

Those were the last yards the Niners would gain while holding a lead.

Jimmy Garoppolo's second-down pass attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Chris Jones, and his third-down pass sailed wide of Kendrick Bourne. Instead of riding the running game that got them here and got them five yards to start the drive, Shanahan tried to aggressively throw in order to maintain possession. The 49ers took less than a minute of game time off the clock.

"The last thing you're thinking about when you're up three points and there is that much time left, the clock is not an issue at that time, especially with the timeouts," Shanahan explained. "The issue was moving the chains. If you move the chains, then you will wind the clock."

Shanahan went into a shell as a play-caller while serving as Falcons offensive coordinator in Super Bowl LI, which allowed for the Patriots to complete the greatest comeback win in Super Bowl history (25 points). He spoke this week about how much that loss haunted him. Perhaps as a reaction, Shanahan decided to be aggressive.

His decisions didn't cause his players to lose faith in him. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who scored a touchdown Sunday, gave the coach an immense amount of credit for his work in leading them to the Super Bowl. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel professed his belief in his coach in the moments right after the loss.

"I believe in Kyle just as much as he believes in us," Samuel said. "He got us here and we'll follow his way."

Ultimately, they didn't pick up the necessary first downs. Now the 49ers are headed back to the Bay Area without the coveted Lombardi Trophy and with nothing to view but the tape of their heartbreaking loss.

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