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In another close playoff game, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in the NFC Championship.
While Los Angeles prepares for the Super Bowl, the 49ers are now preparing to regroup and restart. However, the decisions and way the loss played out is going to be a source of contention for the beginning of the offseason and potentially down the road.
Some of that chatter is due to the season-long conversation surrounding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but some of it is also focusing on 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
After blowing the 17-7 lead in the NFC Championship, the game continues a trend of Shanahan’s teams losing late in big games after taking the lead.
It’s a tough look, but being able to put yourself in the position to win Super Bowls and conference championships is the accomplishment one has to achieve to “fail” like this. Considering the Niners were 3-5 at one point, being a score away from a Super Bowl appearance puts the game in perspective.
But whether 49ers fans consider this season a failure or a success, it’s over and that leaves even more space for debate to start the offseason.
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Analysts Question Shanahan’s Plan
There’s a couple of plays and moments in particular that will be highlighted in the 49ers loss, such as safety Jaquiski Tartt’s drop. But many users online, including Marc Delucchi, think that Shanahan’s just as much to blame.
“People are going to put this loss on Jaquiski Tartt’s drop,” the Niners Nation contributor Tweeted. “But Kyle Shanahan’s decision to punt on 4th-and-2 and Jimmy Garoppolo’s horrendous final two drives had just as much of an impact.”
With just over 10 minutes remaining, San Francisco was facing a 4th and 2 from the Rams’ 45 and Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay had just used his final timeout on a missed challenge. If San Francisco picked up the first down, the 49ers would be looking at a good chance at kicking a field goal or scoring a touchdown to expand on their 17-14 lead.
Shanahan elected to punt, which led to the Rams driving down the field and tying the game up. The momentum continued in Los Angeles’ favor, and the “trend” with Shanahan mentioned above continued.
Besides the decision on fourth down, the lack of touches for wide receiver Deebo Samuel was also a point many fans and analysts made, including Sports Illustrated’s Grant Cohn.
“Deebo Samuel touched the ball only once in the fourth quarter,” Cohn Tweeted. “That’s Kyle Shanahan‘s fault.”
In the same vein, viewers like Steven Cheah have named the second-to-last drive from the Niners offense. They went three-and-out, took a penalty and, as Cheah and Cohn mention, Deebo didn’t see the ball once.
Shanahan Speaks on 4th and 2
After the game, 49ers players and Shanahan spoke to the media about the heart-wrenching loss. Shanahan was asked about the decision to punt on 4th and 2 late in the game, and the coach made it fairly clear that he stood by the decision.
“We were never thinking about going for that,” Shanahan bluntly stated.
Maybe it was the right decision and it didn’t end up mattering. If the Niners’ don’t get the first down, the Rams offense only had 55 yards or so to reach the endzone, which would’ve made it a 21-17 game at that point.
However, an analytics bot that breaks down decisions like Shanahan’s shared its data, which said the 49ers had the best chance to win by going for the 4th down rather than punting.