A Textbook Failure

It was a pretty good game last night. However, I’m beginning to conclude that for all his many strengths, Kyle Shanahan simply isn’t a big-game coach. Rather like Denny Green with the Vikings back in the day, he’s capable of putting together a great team and getting them to play very well in the regular season, but he doesn’t have the mental flexibility to win the chess games that is necessary at the championship level.

Some things can’t be controlled. McCaffrey uncharacteristically fumbling in the red zone, Greenlaw getting hurt running onto the field, the punt hitting the leg of the blocker, the extra point being blocked. But I was pretty certain that Shanahan choked when he failed to try to close out the game when the 49ers had the ball in scoring position inside the two-minute warning of a 16-16 game.

There are two ways to play to win in that situation. The best is to burn the clock down to 10 seconds, then score. This is necessary when playing against a top-tier quarterback. You can trust your defense to hold on in many cases, but not against a Brady, a Mahomes, or a Rodgers. The other option is to play for a touchdown. In both cases, you are playing to win the game.

However, the NFL tradition is to always play to put off the final decision. Perhaps this is a league-dictated thing, or perhaps it is the textbook decision because it allows a head coach to avoid the criticism and accountability that comes in the wake of an execution failure that makes what was the right decision at the time look incorrect in hindsight. Shanahan kicked the field goal with too much time on the clock, and was lucky that Kansas City only scored three to send the game to overtime instead of putting the game away with a touchdown inside regular time.

If you don’t play to win, you don’t really deserve to be a champion anyhow.

And who would have thought that Andy Reid – ANDY REID – would win a clock management battle? In the Super Bowl! This is surely a sign of the Apocalypse.

UPDATE: With regards to the entertainment scripting theory, I think the NFL actually wanted SF to win. The one egregious call was the defensive holding call on 3rd and 13 in OT. And the grounding call on Mahomes, while 100-percent legitimate, could have easily been waved off due to the receiver in the vicinity, had the league been favoring the Chiefs.