Sports is about traditions, and going all out on Super Bowl Sunday with great meals and inviting friends and family to celebrate is one of the biggest events in America.
Another football tradition, although it is a cartoon in the “Peanuts” comic strip, is that Lucy never lets Charlie Brown kick the ball after holding it out for him, over and over again. After the San Francisco 49ers’ 25-22 overtime loss to the now-back-to-back Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, head coach Kyle Shanahan is now Super Bowl Charlie Brown – still appearing to be in a great position to succeed. , but something is seriously wrong.
“We all suffered and we don’t have a lot of words to say it,” Shanahan said after the game. “Obviously we’re hurting, our team is hurting, but that’s how it goes when you put yourself out there. I’m really proud of our guys, no regrets with our team. I thought our guys played so hard today wasn’t everything. It’s perfect in every way, but if I have to lose with a group of guys, I’ll do it with these guys any time and we’ll get over it and will be back next year, ready to go.”
Shanahan has been to the Super Bowl three times – once as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 and twice as head coach with the San Francisco 49ers in 2019 and 2023. Those three trips to the level NFL Finals allowed Shanahan to be responsible for three of the biggest missed leads in Super Bowl history.
- 25 point lead as Falcons OC (2016 at Super Bowl LI vs. Patriots, led 28-3)
- 10 point lead as 49ers HC (2019 at Super Bowl LIV vs Chiefs, led 20-10)
- 10-point lead as 49ers HC (2023 at Super Bowl LVIII vs. Chiefs, led 10-0)
A 10-point cushion given up represents the second-largest lost lead in Super Bowl history, with only the 28-3 collapse being the Big Game’s biggest meltdown.
The biggest missed leads in Super Bowl history
*Kyle Shanahan was offensive coordinator for the 2016 Falcons and head coach for the 49ers in 2019 and 2023.
“This is my second Super Bowl as a head coach, but I think when you’re going against guys like Tom Brady and Pat Mahomes, you better never get comfortable with the head, and this are two of the best players to ever play this game,” Shanahan said. “That’s why, whether you have a lead or weak points, these are the guys who are always in it. Watch them all the time, do those kinds of things.”
Another recurring theme in the collapses of Shanahan’s teams — besides the caliber of quarterback they faced — is their second-half failure and going against typical football norms. After his and the 49ers’ second Super Bowl collapse against Kansas City, Shanahan’s teams combined to score 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of those three games while their opponent scored a total of 58 points (Patriots 25 , Chiefs 33).
Kyle Shanahan’s Super Bowls Fourth Quarter/OT Teams
3rd down conversion
The problem playing for Shanahan after getting those leads is obvious: not trusting his running game. He called passing plays on a 2:1 or higher ratio of his offensive plays in Super Bowl LI against the Patriots and Super Bowl LIV against the Chiefs, once gaining a double-digit lead. Atlanta suffered a sack on second-and-11 up eight points in the final four minutes of their Super Bowl collapse, which pushed them out of field goal range and prevented them from going up two scores to three minutes from the end. In the Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl, Shanahan completed 12 passes for just four points after building a 28-3 lead. In the 49ers and Chiefs’ first Super Bowl, he completed 12 passes for five points after building a 20-10 advantage.
In Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, Shanahan’s 49ers opted to pass at a 4:3 ratio after trailing 10-0 in the second quarter, with 24 dropbacks to pass against 18 rushing attempts. This time, that dichotomy was most obvious in the third quarter. San Francisco’s three possessions in the third quarter were all three-and-overs after all three drives began with the 49ers in front. Eight of their nine offensive plays were passes despite running back Christian McCaffrey, the 2023 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, at Shanahan’s disposal.
Here’s a look at the 49ers’ three third-quarter drives with one possession on top:
McCaffrey still had a solid performance with 160 yards from scrimmage, including 10 on a receiving touchdown from wide receiver Jauan Jennings, on 30 touches (22 carries for 80 yards and eight catches for 80 yards). Despite a fumble on the first drive, he still became the first player in Super Bowl history with more than 75 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in the same game.
However, Shanahan’s 49ers needed more McCaffrey, just like Christopher Walken needed more bells from Will Ferrell in their famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch. CMC totaled just eight touches for 28 yards from scrimmage in the third and fourth quarters combined. Shanahan’s abandonment of his best weapon in the second half opened the door for the magic of Patrick Mahomes. Once Mahomes gets into rhythm, it’s too late. This was evident on the final drive of the night in overtime in which he completed all eight of his passes for 42 yards, including the Super Bowl-winning three-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mecole Hardman. The final drive of the game represented the most Mahomes pass attempts without a miss in any drive during his NFL career, regular season or playoffs. Despite McCaffrey’s absence for most of the game after halftime, Shanahan said he would be very proud of the job he and his team did in San Francisco’s loss.
“No, I mean, yeah, when you live football and you watch it as part of our job, and any play that doesn’t work, you always think about it,” Shanahan said when asked when asked about his playing regrets. “But for everything we try to do, we try to prepare as hard as we can. We try to go out there and do exactly what we think is right based on our preparation, of what’s happening in this match, and trying to do the… what I can’t live with is when I do things that I didn’t plan to do or that I didn’t have done and I question myself. I’m proud of what we did today as a coaching staff and as players in terms of what we did. We worked and we did everything we planned to do. We just didn’t get it done and any play that didn’t work. Yeah, you always look at that stuff, but that’s how every game goes and that’s what we are working on.
Mahomes’ Chiefs have won five playoffs after trailing by double-digit points — which is remarkable, considering no other quarterback has won more than one since 2018, when he became Kansas City’s full-time starting quarterback. Shanahan could have prevented Mahomes from even having the opportunity to track him down in the Super Bowl if he had continued to stay engaged in the engine of his 2023 49ers offense in McCaffrey. Instead, he found himself trying to throw a throw with the best quarterback in the game today.
Shanahan put himself in the unenviable Super Bowl position of once again being the Charlie Brown to Mahomes’ Lucy. Like Charlie Brown, the 49ers head coach is going to pick himself up and try again in the 2024 season because it’s the only option he and San Francisco have.
“There’s nothing different to say, I mean I don’t care how you lose when you lose the Super Bowl, especially the ones you think you can do well, it hurts,” Shanahan said. “When you’re in the NFL, I think every team should suffer except one at the end. We came close, but we didn’t make it. We’re suffering right now, but we’re not . “That doesn’t take away from my pride in our guys. I’m really proud of them today too. In the context of sport, in the context of football, in the context of life, in the context of life. I’m glad we put it ourselves. I love our team. We will recover and come back strong next year.