Life is always more complex than we let on. And while current 49ers coach and then Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan wasn’t (even close) the only reason Atlanta gave up a 25-point lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, and neither wasn’t (even close) the only reason San Francisco surrendered a 10-point lead to the Super Bowl LIV Chiefs, those are the kinds of moments that tend to stick with a person.
You become the guy who gets to the game and wins it almost before something goes wrong. Just like Andy Reid was the guy who couldn’t run the clock, and Pete Carroll was the guy who couldn’t hack it in the NFL and Tom Coughlin was the guy who was too cantankerous to have meaningful success. There’s only one way to stop being this guys, this is why coaches wake up at absurd hours and live extremely unhealthy lifestyles locked up in NFL facilities for hours at a time.
And it’s hard not to think of a past like that when you see the 49ers in their current iteration, winning the NFC West on Thursday, easily outpacing the Seahawks 21-13 (after a late score in Seattle) with the third string. , seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy at quarterback and entering the playoffs as one of the league’s most favored teams to win the Super Bowl. For those of us who are lucky enough to make mistakes and continue in this profession long enough to correct them, we don’t want to just write a mistake, we want to break the past into small pieces and erase the remnants from our desks. like Tony Montana in scarface. Sure, losses are part of the journey of life and blah, blah, blah, but they can also be relentless and infuriating. I remember watching a tight circle of confidants (John Lynch and Kyle’s dad Mike) in Shanahan’s office guarding the door, Coronas in hand, after the 49ers lost Super Bowl LIV and thinking we were going to all look dumb one day for typing him like some kind of coaching idiot.
That day could come in early 2023.
While Shanahan’s system is built on clever principles, which you can read about here, the whole thing is also designed to take any semblance of a lead and stick to it like Kane during a chokeslam. It might be a little Freudian of us to search the depths of someone’s soul for the reason why someone does what they do, but if the 49ers went up 28-3 at the Super Bowl this year, we could throw on a sleeping mask for the second half and wake up to the Shanahan family rebuilding their joint vacation home to host a fourth Lombardi Trophy (Mike won two as head coach and one as an assistant).
This racing game is an absolute cudgel, with Christian McCaffrey’s trade paying immediate dividends. Purdy spent Thursday night slashing third and long passes into his receiver’s stomach on critical late-game tries in front of the loudest crowd he’ll face all year. The Demeco Ryans defense simply decided to more or less forbid scoring in the second half, allowing 3.4 ppg after the break during their seven-game winning streak, which began with four straight shutouts in second half-time. On Thursday, facing the pressure of four with a little sketchy twist every now and then (three players lined up on one side, for example), Geno Smith walked into every snap better lie down to avoid trouble. The whole experience of playing the 49ers is supposed to make you wince, make you throw off your helmet, make you double the length of the post-game ice bath. You couldn’t say that about the Falcons six years ago. You could almost say that of the last Niners who played in the Super Bowl, especially with the punitive complementary nature of Robert Saleh’s defense, but this team evolved on these principles of physicality up to the doctoral level.
How it all ends, we cannot know at this time. But we can guess what might happen if Shanahan gets a big game lead again. History and reputation will not be repeated.