1) Kyle Shanahan let another one slip away
Kyle Shanahan is a true offensive genius and one of the best coaches in the game, but his track record in big games is undeniably dubious. Both statements can be true.
Shanahan did some good things, like dialing up a trick play for Jauan Jennings to throw a pass to Christian McCaffrey late in the second quarter, which resulted in the first touchdown of the game. His decision to go for it on fourth down while down three in the fourth quarter was Dan Campbell-esque and his guts were rewarded when Brock Purdy found George Kittle for just enough to get the first down.
There's a lot Shanahan has to answer for, especially when his mistakes in this Super Bowl are taken in concert with his previously squandered opportunities, such as the 28-3 come-from-ahead loss to the Patriots when he was the Falcons offensive coordinator in Super Bowl 51 in 2017, or the double-digit lead his 49ers couldn't hold when they last faced the Chiefs in the Super Bowl four years ago.
Let's begin in the first half. The 49ers defense was playing out of its mind. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was pushing all the right buttons, and all 11 guys on the field stymied the greatest quarterback in the game, holding Mahomes and co. to just three points at halftime while forcing two first-half turnovers. Somehow, though, the Niners only led by seven at the break.
The Chiefs defense also played a hell of a half, but for Shanahan to have the best set of skill players in the NFL, plus Brock Purdy, who, let's be honest, played extremely well even in defeat, and come away with only 10 points at halftime was criminal. Patrick Mahomes is Michael Myers. You can't shoot him once and then turn your back. He always comes back to life. You need to have the entire town drop him into an industrial grinder (sorry to spoil Halloween Ends for you). Shanahan kept the Chiefs in the game, and it came back to bite him.
Fast forward to the second half. Despite having the best running back in the game in Christian McCaffrey, Shanahan called six consecutive passes to start the half, resulting in -2 yards and two consecutive three-and-outs. This mirrors Super Bowl 51, when the Falcons mysteriously abandoned the running game in all the wrong moments, allowing Tom Brady and the Patriots enough time to mount their historic comeback.
Shanahan was also beaten by Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on the most consequential plays of the game. On the final two San Francisco possessions of the game, the Chiefs were able to hold the Niners to field goals with third-down blitzes, and Shanahan's play calls showed that he wasn't prepared for it. Brock Purdy didn't have any time to find an open receiver, and each time he did well just to throw the ball away and avoid taking a sack.
Finally, and most damning of all, Shanahan's decision to take the ball first after winning the overtime coin toss was objectively wrong. With the new overtime rules that allow both teams to possess the ball even if the first team scores a touchdown, it's clearly better to go second so that you know what you have to beat. This allows you to go for it on fourth down, even deep in your own territory when trailing. After the game, Shanahan stated that he took the ball so that the Niners would get the ball first in sudden death in the event that both teams matched scores, but that outcome was extremely unlikely.
Let's look at the scenarios. If the Niners get held, the Chiefs can score and win. If the Niners kick a field goal, the Chiefs can get a touchdown to win or a field goal to tie. Knowing the Niners would get the ball back after that, Andy Reid would likely opt to go for it on fourth-and-short, even in field goal range, to keep the game in Mahomes' hands. The other outcome is that the Niners get the ball, go down and score a touchdown, but then the Chiefs could still do the same. Kansas City is never kicking the extra point there to extend the game, as kicking the ball back to the Niners would be akin to writing your own death sentence, what with a tired defense that has just played five quarters of football and just gave up a touchdown on the previous possession. They're going for two and the win every time.
So to recap, the only scenario that would justify Shanahan's decision was if both teams kicked a field goal, then the Niners got the ball with the chance to win. Call me crazy, but I'd rather have the knowledge of what I need to win, with Patrick Mahomes off the field. Be Laurie Strode, not every other resident of Haddonfield.
The only overtime decision I can recall that rivals Shanahan's is when Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg took the wind instead of the ball way back in 2002, then the Bears proceeded to go down and win the game on the first possession of extra time.
Any time you can be reasonably compared to Marty Mornhinweg, it's never a good thing. That's why Shanahan deserves the most blame for the pain the 49er Faithful will be feeling this entire offseason and beyond.
Shanahan has been in position to win three rings, and three times he's let it slip away.