What to take from this Super Bowl
Last weekend a day before the Super Bowl, I made my prediction and talked about how this year’s contest was all about anniversaries.
Now that the game is over, it’s turned into a talk about legacies, whether it be for the coaches or just the teams themselves.
When it comes to the teams involved, Kansas City has turned from a team that frequently underachieves in the playoffs, getting upset in the divisional round or collapsing in games they should’ve won.
Now the Chiefs are the Super Bowl champions, exorcising the demons that have plagued them for the past 50 years.
San Francisco, on the other hand, has turned from one of the most dominant franchises in league history to one that you can no longer assume is going to finish the job.
The 49ers were at one point in their existence 5-0 in the big game. However, in their last two outings, they fell behind big and couldn’t rally against Baltimore back in 2013, and of course on Sunday, they blew what looked like a secure 10-point advantage in the fourth quarter. It’s weird how a couple games can change your perspective of an entire organization.
Then there’s the coaches, who most people seem to be talking about. On one sideline, there was Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, a man who had been an NFL coach for what seemed like forever, but had never won the big one. He had gotten to the Super Bowl once before, back when he led the Eagles there in 2005, but they lost 24-21 to New England in the Patriots’ third big-game win in four years at the start of their dynasty.
During all this time, Reid was known for his offensive innovations and ability to develop and improve quarterbacks, whether it be Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia or Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
However, for a lot of us, Reid stood out for his terrible clock management skills. In fact, many of us were wondering if Sunday’s game was coming down to the last couple of minutes if Andy Reid would pull an Andy Reid.
For those who don’t remember, back in Reid’s Super Bowl with the Eagles, Philly trailed the Patriots by 10 points with a little less than six minutes left. Needing at bare minimum a touchdown and field goal to stay alive, most viewers expected the Eagles to try to get down the field quickly so they’d have enough time to at least tie it. Instead, Reid and the Eagles went with a full-huddle, 13-play, 3:52 drive before scoring a touchdown and pulling within three. Although they scored, that left only 1:48 to try to tie it up, let alone win it. New England ground the clock down to 46 seconds remaining and Philadelphia couldn’t finish the comeback.
Things changed, though, Sunday against the Niners as Reid played aggressively, going for it on fourth down deep in SF territory in the first quarter, which led to KC’s first touchdown, and also made some smart decisions in the fourth quarter that helped the Chiefs rally to win. Thanks to that title, Reid was no longer the coach who couldn’t manage a clock. He became the coach who ended a city’s half-century-long title drought.
On the other sideline, there was San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan. He also didn’t have the greatest reputation going into the Super Bowl as he was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator during Super Bowl LI (51), a key part of the Falcons’ infamous 25-point collapse against the Pats.
Shanahan’s smart play calling helped the Falcons roll up a 28-3 lead with a little more than eight minutes to go in the third quarter. Even though New England had started to rally and pulled within 28-12, Atlanta still had a win probability of 99.6 percent (99.6!) with nine minutes left in the game.
It would take an insane comeback combined with sheer coaching incompetence by Atlanta for the Patriots to win the game — but they got both.
Rather than try to milk the clock with his rushing attack, Shanahan stayed aggressive and inexplicably kept calling passes. Atlanta’s offense started to stall and kept punting the ball to the Pats, who caught fire, tied it up with less than a minute left, and won in overtime. The fact that the Falcons lost that game is still mindboggling and they haven’t been the same since.
On Sunday, Shanahan had a chance to put those devastating memories behind him, maybe not permanently, but in a place where he doesn’t have to be reminded of them every day of his life.
He was with a new team that he brought from the bottom of the NFC West to the league’s biggest stage in just three years. It was a heartwarming story, one where a guy finally sheds his cloak of failure and puts on a jeweled robe of success.
In the fourth quarter on Sunday, it looked as if it was actually going to happen. The Niners led the Chiefs 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter and had stifled the potent KC offense in the second half. In fact, SF picked off Mahomes with about 12 minutes left, so things looked bleak for the Chiefs.
And then Kyle decided to pull a Kyle. With 7:26 left, the Niners’ win probability was listed at 95.3 percent (95.3!), but Shanahan once again decided to shift away from SF’s strong running game and instead make his offensive leader quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was hot and cold that night.
In the NFC Championship game against Green Bay, the Niners set a record for winning the NFC title by only throwing eight passes. With a running game that effective, why wouldn’t you stick with that to milk the clock?
I’m not sure what goes on in Shanahan’s head in the fourth quarter, but it’s like his brain goes haywire and he forgets that he’s winning. As we all know, the Chiefs rallied and took a 24-20 lead against a gassed SF defense with less than three minutes left. The Niners had a chance to take the lead with 1:40 remaining, but Garoppolo overthrew an open Emmanuel Sanders over the middle that would’ve resulted in a 49-yard touchdown and KC scored the title-clinching touchdown 28 seconds later.
There have only been three times where a team has blown a 10-point advantage through three quarters and lost the Super Bowl. Shanahan was a coach for two of those teams, and right now that’s what he’s known for.
Sunday was Groundhog Day and just like Bill Murray in the movie of that name, Shanahan had to basically relive a bad day again, just in a different way.
If there’s one positive Shanahan can take from Sunday’s disaster, it’s that Andy Reid was finally able to ditch his bad reputation and Bill Murray eventually found his way out of his nightmarish time loop.
So there’s still hope for you, Kyle. You still have time to redefine your legacy.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.