By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — At this point in time, it’s not clear what it might take for 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to ever fully emerge from the shadow cast upon him and everyone involved with the infamous 28-3 Super Bowl collapse against the Patriots. But as a conservative estimate, it’s fair to say he’s going to have to win multiple Super Bowls in order to make that fiasco a distant memory.READ MORE: 'It Was Shocking': American Flag Torn Down, Stolen From Pulaski Park In Boston
In the meanwhile, Shanahan is going to face questions about the decisions he made as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator — decisions which contributed in a very significant way toward the Patriots’ ability to come back in historic fashion. The Niners coach did just that when he sat down with Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast this week, and without fail, the night that Shanahan would most like to forget was a topic of discussion.
Interestingly, despite calling some passing plays where running plays would have almost guaranteed a win, Shanahan didn’t express too much regret. And, perhaps most interestingly of all, he explained how the mere presence of Tom Brady on the other side of the ball influenced his decisions with his own offense.
“I’ve never sat in a box so long and watched the other team. It felt like it was going about 45 minutes at a time without us touching the ball, and eventually they come back,” Shanahan explained. “And it’s like, ‘Hey, screw this. We’re not gonna hope that this doesn’t happen. We’ve gotta take this into our own hands.’ And you start to get aggressive with that, because I don’t want to give it back to Tom, because Tom’s the man. And he’s gonna show what he’s gonna do with it. So screw that, let’s do it on our own. And I think that made me make one bad decision, which was a pass on second-and-10. But once you do that, you don’t hesitate and go, ‘S—, I’ve got to run it now.’ No. You’ve got to [say]. ‘Hey, we’ve gotta man up and overcome that.'”
It’s an interesting admission for Shanahan to say that because Brady is “the man,” his own play-calling decisions in the biggest game of his life were impacted.
For a brief recap (in case you forgot), here’s where Shanahan really erred that fateful night in Houston:
–On a third-and-1 from the Atlanta 26-yard-line and with the Falcons holding a 16-point lead with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter, Shanahan dialed up a deep pass play out of the shotgun. Quarterback Matt Ryan took his drop 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Dont’a Hightower blew past running back Devont’a Freeman and not only sacked Ryan but jarred the ball loose. Alan Branch recovered, and the Patriots took over at the Atlanta 25-yard line. Brady hit Danny Amendola for a touchdown, and James White converted the two-point conversion to cut Atlanta’s lead to eight just two-and-a-half minutes later.
–On the next drive, after Freeman broke off a 39-yard catch-and-run and after Julio Jones made a
game-winninggreat catch on the right sideline, the Falcons faced a first-and-10 from the New England 22-yard line with 4:40 left in the game. The Falcons could have easily called three running plays up the gut, gained zero yards, kicked a field goal to take an 11-point lead, and almost certainly won the game. Atlanta’s win probability was about 97 percent. But after a run that led to a 1-yard loss, Shanahan called for a pass. Ryan again stood in the shotgun and again dropped 10 yards deep, as Trey Flowers bullied his way past center Alex Mack and hauled Ryan down for a sack and a 12-yard loss.
–The Falcons were still in field-goal range when they faced a third-and-23 from the New England 35-yard line, and they made it an easier kick with a short pass to Mohamed Sanu for a gain of nine yards. But Jake Matthews was called for holding Chris Long on the play, something the Patriots later said they knew they could exploit. That pushed the Falcons out of field-goal range, facing a third-and-33 at the 45-yard line. Ryan threw a deep out to Tyler Gabriel, but Malcolm Butler had it covered well and it fell incomplete. The Falcons had to punt, Brady led a 92-yard game-tying drive, and the rest is history.
While Shanahan did admit to feeling some regrets “any time you lose a game,” he did seem to place some blame elsewhere for the collapse.READ MORE: No Powerball Winner, Jackpot Climbs To $570 Million
“Now what I will say, the one regret I had is after we got down there, was throwing it on second-and-10. I wish I just ran it. But I also didn’t plan on us getting a sack,” Shanahan said. “I thought we could end it right there, and I thought if it wasn’t [there], we’d throw it away. And we didn’t. Which happens. We took a sack.”
The coach is, of course, right. Ryan should have thrown the football away in that moment, as taking a sack was one of two things he absolutely could not afford to do. (Throwing an interception would be the other one.) But at the same time, putting players in a position where they could spectacularly fail is something that coaches should generally try to avoid. (It may have been a response to Ryan last year shifting some of the blame to Shanahan’s system.)
Nevertheless, the game went on.
“And so we had to throw the next play to get back in the game, and so we did,” Shanahan said. “We converted it, Mohammed Sanu got us right back into field-goal range, but our left tackle had a holding call, which put us in a third-and-30.”
Again, he’s right. Can’t have your left tackle commit a hold there. Simply cannot do it. Especially on a short pass where Ryan got rid of the ball fairly quickly. Bad play by Matthews. This wasn’t a play-call issue. But, well, here’s what Shanahan said about the penalty call:
“It frustrated the heck out of me. … There was a flag there, which, it still is a suspect flag, but it is what it is and you’ve gotta deal with it.”
Well, hey, Kyle, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news here but …
… that’s a penalty.
A “suspect flag”? Yikes. It looks like the presence of Brady might have impacted more than just Shanahan’s judgment on his play-calling.
In any event, Super Bowl LI was one of the craziest, wildest, most unpredictable sporting events of all time. Any time anyone from any side talks about it and reveals another layer, it will always draw intrigue. Shanahan just has to hope he becomes a savior of sorts in San Francisco, because answering questions about that February 2017 night can’t be a pleasant experience.MORE NEWS: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments