Kyle Shanahan is the Minnesota Vikings of NFL coaches

Kyle Shanahan is a (regular season) genius. Kyle Shanahan is revolutionizing the (regular season) NFL. Kyle Shanahan is a (regular season) winner. After the 49ers loss in Super Bowl LVIII it’s fair to add those parentheticals to his resume.

Sunday marked the sixth time in Shanahan’s career that he’s lost a postseason game as a coordinator or head coach — and most notably his third Super Bowl. He’s now done it twice as coach of the 49ers, and was the offensive coordinator during the Falcons’ infamous 28-3 collapse to the Patriots. Like it or not, this is a pattern that keeps rearing its head in the biggest games of his career, and it’s not like this is coincidental.

The shared DNA of Shanahan failures is a tendency to lose his team’s identity as a football team. In the Super Bowl this came with a bizarre decision to skew his run/pass balance towards giving Brock Purdy more opportunities to throw, which had a domino effect on the rest of the team. Sure, there’s some logic here that the Chiefs had clearly keyed on the run, cutting off opportunities for McCaffrey to run up the gut — but when you knowingly remove the best player from your offense there had better be a play beyond “let’s see if Brock can wing it.”

The third quarter was the perfect example of this. The score is 10-3. It’s clear that this is a defensive game, and you’re ahead on the board against the Chiefs. This is exactly where you hoped this game would be. If someone came to you three days ago and gave you this scenario you’d be over the moon. You have the better run game, you can grind clock better. Points are field position are at a premium.

Let’s look at the 49ers playcalling decisions from this moment on for the next three drives.

Drive 1

  • Brock Purdy incomplete
  • False Start
  • Brock Purdy incomplete
  • Brock Purdy scramble
  • Punt

Drive 2

  • Brock Purdy complete for -8 yards
  • Brock Purdy complete for 7 yards
  • Brock Purdy incomplete
  • Punt

Drive 3

  • Christian McCaffrey run for no gain
  • Brock Purdy incomplete
  • Brock Purdy incomplete
  • Punt

This decision making made absolutely no sense. It felt more like someone playing Madden and trying to get their favorite player a Super Bowl MVP than the playcalling you make in the actual Super Bowl. Time and time again Shanahan was mashing a square peg into a round hole, and being confused why it wasn’t working. It was almost as if the coach wanted to desperately make a point with Brock Purdy, prove he was an elite quarterback capable of winning with his arm — and dammit, he was going to try to manifest this.

We don’t need to litigate Purdy’s ability. It’s tired and boring at this stage. What we can say with confidence is that this season a lot of the 49ers offensive passing capability has been because of the ever-present threat of McCaffrey to hit a home run. When you combine this with pre-snap motion it becomes very difficult to defend, but when the defense no longer needs to respect the run, it crumbles.

These three critical drives to set the tone of the second half resulted in three total yards on designed passes (8 attempts), and zero yards on designed runs (1 attempt). Combined they took only 3:45 off the clock.

This season the 49ers ran the ball 499 times and passed 491. They knew everything branched off establishing the run and dominating the ground game. In the Super Bowl that all went out the window as Purdy passed 38 times, and McCaffrey only got 22 running attempts.

There’s an alternate timeline here where the 49ers ran the ball with McCaffrey on those critical third down drives. Even if they didn’t result in points, eating clock would have been so important to how this game played out. If the 49ers manage just one first down on each of those drives, extend out a running clock to eat 10 minutes of total clock, rather than less than 4:00 — now we have a scenario where the San Francisco touchdown shuts the door and seals the game, rather than giving the Chiefs a way back in.

Kyle Shanahan is still a great coach, the same way the Vikings are a great team. They will win in the regular season, then collapse when the games matter. It will happen time, and time, and time again. Is there an answer for this? I honestly don’t know, and neither does Shanahan. He’s just insistent on this tendency to over-compensate when a team has his number defensively and get way too cute as a result. Until he trusts in his system to work when games matter the most this will just keep happening.

There’s always next year.

Winner: The Chiefs (obviously)

I don’t know what more there is to say about this team. Patrick Mahomes might have it right: This is just the beginning of a dynasty.

One of the questions leading up to the Super Bowl was whether we’d see this be the moment that Andy Reid decided to hang it up, but perhaps that talk is still premature. Travis Kelce wants to keep playing. However, the story of the Chiefs is so much bigger than those two guys.

We just witnessed an organization that was able to do a complete 180 on its course and transform itself in a year. The Chiefs realized that even in winning a Super Bowl in 2023, they were vulnerable. Defensively this team struggled, and on offense they struggled inside of the market and cap to find the impact players they needed.

The fact we just saw Kansas City hang with the 49ers defensively and beat them at their own game is a testament to the nucleus this team has built. Chris Jones is the best defensive tackle in the NFL, Trent McDuffie is one of the league’s best corners — and there’s a pipeline of strong developing players ready to take the reins.

If this team can just find a receiver of two, then we’re talking very real mid-2010s Patriots vibes when it comes to dominance. This team is able to adapt to the league and make the right decisions with all their personnel moves. At this point it’s impossible to bet against them.

Loser: Temu

I never want to see a Temu ad again.

Winner: Usher

I’ll be honest: I didn’t have any expectations for the Super Bowl halftime show. It’s not that I inherently dislike Usher, or his music — more that I thought it would be middling at best. What we got was pure brilliance for the entire performance.

Great guests, nice cameos, roller skates … it had it all. We’re so overdue for a horrific halftime show that I’m worried what we’ll get in 2025.

Winner: Taylor Swift

Tay Tay flew halfway across the world to see her man in the Super Bowl and got to see him win. She also got to party all night long. That’s a solid return for a major investment of time and travel.

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