One of the hot-button issues after the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss was whether head coach Kyle Shanahan should’ve called a timeout near the end of the first half. He told reporters Thursday that he believed in the moment he was playing it right, and still believes it days after the game.
San Francisco got a stop against Kansas City with just under 1:50 left in the second quarter. Rather than calling the first of his three timeouts, Shanahan elected to let the clock run, and Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt nearly dropped it at the 1-yard-line. It bounced into the end zone though and gave San Francisco the ball at their own 20 with 59 seconds left.
Shanahan said he still believes he played it right. Via a transcript from the team:
No, absolutely not. I think that was one of the reasons we were up 10 points going into the fourth quarter. Absolutely wouldn’t have called a timeout at that time because we were expecting to be backed up and inside the 10, just like we probably should have been at the one, if they didn’t mess that play up. No, I was as confident as what we did in that situation as anything we’ve done all year. I mean that strongly. That’s something you work at for two weeks studying that team, what they’re capable of doing. You’re not going to give the ball back to them no matter what in that situation. The way he did that third-and-15 at the end of the game is how he does the two-minute drive. Felt extremely good with how we went. Not using the timeout there was a no-brainer. If we would have gotten an explosive run on the first one, then it would have been a whole different deal. But, we got a two-and-a-half-yard run. The whole goal was to not let them call a timeout there. You hurry to the line to act like you’re going, but then you don’t so you can ensure that [Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick] Mahomes won’t have an opportunity. And then we run a ball and then we make them use one of their timeouts. Now it’s third down, at least we’ve made them use one of their timeouts, we’ve taken enough time off that if we don’t get this, it’s going to be harder. But, there is still a lot of pressure. You’ve got to move the chains there. They brought a corner blitz. [RB] Jeff [Wilson Jr.] did an awesome job. We got a big play. Ended up having an opportunity to score if we don’t get the offensive PI.
They nearly got into scoring range, but an offensive pass interference flag on tight end George Kittle negated a 42-yard completion that would’ve put San Francisco deep into Chiefs territory. Instead they had to kneel and run the final seconds off to enter the half tied at 10.
In hindsight, with a blown fourth-quarter lead under their belts, trying harder to score at the end of the first half seems paramount, and makes the non-timeout look like a blunder.
However, the 49ers still held a 10-point lead with 6:23 left in the game in part because of their choice to not let Kansas City have the ball back at the end of the half. They also nearly had points to close the first half had Kittle not been flagged for offensive pass interference. Had they scored with no time left in the half, Shanahan would’ve been lauded for his outstanding clock management.
One of the wrinkles in the post-game analysis of that sequence was a shot of 49ers general manager John Lynch in his suite signaling for a timeout after the third-down stop by the 49ers defense.
Lynch told reporters it was a spur-of-the-moment reaction that he quickly regretted.
“Yeah, I think it’s just as if I was a player looking at the sidelines saying timeout, timeout,” he said. “I was thrilled for our guys. I get excited watching these games. Not much I can do up there, but I’ve got these guys’ backs. It’s not my role to do time management. I don’t focus a lot on it. I was proud of our guys getting a big stop. That was my initial reaction. (President of 49ers Enterprises and EVP of Football Operations) Paraag [Marathe] does study a lot of time management. I’m also asking him, ‘Should we get the timeout?’ That’s all it was. It was quickly erased when they almost pinned us at the half yard line. Kyle knows that. I watch the game with emotion because I care. That’s all that was.”
Since the goal was to not give the Chiefs the ball back, Shanahan made the right move, and it makes sense that he wouldn’t go back and change it.