Kyle Shanahan ne regrette rien:
If Kyle Shanahan lies awake every night thinking about his play-calling down the stretch for the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, it wouldn’t be hard to blame him. The Falcons ran the ball five times after taking a 25-point lead, one of which was wiped out by a holding penalty.
They remained aggressive but ultimately it cost them because they left too much time on the clock for Tom Brady and the Patriots, who came back to win the game 34-28. Call it whatever you want — and it’s totally fair to call it a choke — but it was not good execution or decision-making down the stretch.
Shanahan, who accepted the head coaching gig with the 49ers almost immediately after the game, says he wouldn’t do anything differently despite the outcome.
“We played that game how we played the entire year,” Shanahan said at his introductory Niners press conference, via NFL.com. “I called plays in that game the way I have the entire year. Doesn’t mean I’m always right. Doesn’t mean they’re always going to work. But I promise you I prepare as hard as I possibly can. I always do what I believe is right, with our coaching staff and with the players, and then you live with the consequences.
I guess you would expect Shanahan to rationalize here, except that I think that he’s telling the truth about his thinking: his playcalling had been AGGRESSIVE all year, and he wasn’t going to change based on minor details like the specific game situation he was in. It’s crazy, but it’s not uncommon.
I’ll even say that Shanahan and Quinn have probably gotten too much grief for the pass call on 3rd-and-1 that led to the Hightower strip sack. You can second-guess that, but it’s within a reasonable range of play calls — a first down there is yoooge, and it’s not ridiculous between the quality of Atlanta’s passing game and the fact that Atlanta’s center was into his 50th minute of playing on a broken leg to think going to the air gives you a better shot. That play is more on Freeman’s failure to pick up the rusher than the coaching staff. But passing after the Jones catch when two runs into the line give you a better than 9-in-10 shot of a game-sealing field goal? (And even if you miss the field goal, burning clock or forcing the Patriots to burn timeouts is still pretty big, given that while outstanding the New England offense was operating with a distinctly Andy Reid-like pace.) That’s just flat stupid, unforgivable on the part of Shanahan and Quinn. It’s the job of the coaching staff to give their players the best chance to win, and Shanahan pissed the game away because that’s how he would coach a regular season game against Jacksonville and you gotta dance with the ones what brung ya in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, and Quinn — an exceptional defensive coach and apparently a good motivator, but a ghastly in-game tactician — inexplicably let him. Sometimes coaches get blamed unfairly for a bad loss, but not this time. It’s 100% on them. And I’m beginning to better understand why Shanahan decided to take what might be the worst head coaching job in the NFL. He probably thinks he’s so good he can win with no talent, a green-as-a-pool-felt GM and horrendous ownership, and again he’s about to learn the hard way.
And what’s even worse is that for all the Shanahan’s guff about bring aggressive, with 52 seconds left and a great passing attack, he…pretty much played for overtime, knowing what the rules are and that his defense was completely out of gas. Quinn deserves a lot of the blame for getting As from the Rex Ryan College of Timeout Preservation, of course, but getting conservative at exactly the point when the game situation called for aggressiveness makes his decision to give away the game look even worse, if that’s possible.
It goes without saying that the coach on the other sideline owes his success in large measure to being focused on specific situations and matchups rather than abstract theories of how his team is supposed to play. But this also shouldn’t be forgotten:
9. While few may remember the call, Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-3 from his own 46-yard line with more than six minutes left in the third quarter might have saved the game. I’m not sure exactly how many coaches would have punted in that situation, but I’m willing to bet that it’s more than a few. Brady’s 17-yard strike to Amendola on that play kept New England’s drive afloat and, in the end, was one of the primary reasons that a comeback was even possible.
Just three weeks earlier, Pete Carroll uncharacteristically give up on a playoff game against Atlanta, kicking to win like Mike McCarthy himself rather than maximizing his team’s chances to win. Do I think there was any way in hell that Seattle was coming back against Atlanta with a secondary reduced to Sherman-and-another-double-bourbon and an offensive line featuring players who weren’t good enough to be regulars on Seattle’s offensive line? Of course not. But, then, it didn’t look like the Pats had any real chance either. Coach to give your team the best chance to win, because you never know. Atlanta gave away the game, but most teams wouldn’t have taken the gift. Give enough free shots to the greatest dynasty in NFL history, though, and they’ll beat you.