How Kyle Shanahan choked away the Super Bowl
LOS ANGELES, February 6, 2017 — The entire football world saw the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. The history books will show that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw an NFL record 62 passes. He completed 43 of them for an NFL record 466 yards. The Pro Football Hall of Fame will forever show that Brady and coach Bill Belichick are now the first player and coach to win five Super Bowls. Brady became the first player to be the Super Bowl MVP for the fourth time. Brady and Belichick may or may not be the best player and coach ever. Such hyperbole is best left to barflies, but at least Brady and Belichick are allowed to be in the conversation.
What should not be forgotten is the real story of an epic collapse. The Falcons choked away a 25-point lead with 18 minutes left. They choked away a 19-point lead after three quarters. They choked away a 16-point lead with 7 minutes left. Brady may or may not be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time), but Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was clearly the goat in the traditional sense.
Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is no longer the biggest coaching goat in Super Bowl history. Bevell made one horrendously miserable call two years ago. Shanahan made miserable calls for most of the fourth quarter, costing the Falcons the win. Nobody threw Shanahan under the bus, but he was clearly the goat.
For those who hate the Patriots or love the Falcons, Lady Gaga was supposed to be the worst part of Super Bowl Sunday. She was far from it compared to the nightmarish fourth quarter courtesy of Mike Shanahan’s son.
Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator calls the plays for the Atlanta offense. Throughout the game, he had quarterback Matt Ryan taking snaps out of the shotgun. Matty Ice had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating entering the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter up by 19, some coaches get attacked for being too conservative. Shanahan went in the other direction. He went beyond aggressive to the point of recklessness. Several mind-numbing calls deserve to be scrutinized. One field goal at any point in the fourth quarter would have iced the game. Kicker Matt Bryant, as solid and reliable as they come, never got his chance.
The Patriots trailed 28-3 late in the third quarter and were still down 28-12 with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation. The Falcons faced third down and one at their own 36 yard line. All they had to do was run the ball straight up the middle. If they convert, the clock keeps grinding down. If they get stopped, they punt. It was the simplest decision in the world. Shanahan called a pass play. This was a horrendous decision, because an incompletion would stop the clock. An incompletion would have been less of a disaster than what actually happened. Ryan went back to pass, was sacked for an 11 yard loss, and fumbled the ball. The Patriots recovered at the Atlanta 25. The Atlanta defense had been heroes all game, and the offense was trying to give the game away. The Patriots scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion and were within 28-20.
The Falcons still had a chance to put the game away. They faced first and 10 at the New England 22 yard line. Only 4:40 remained on the clock. All the Falcons had to do was run the ball three straight times, kick a short field goal, and the game was over. Without doing anything, they were in position for a 40-yarder. On 1st and 10 Freeman lost one yard. This was not a problem as the clock ticked down below four minutes. Then Kyle Shanahan called another mindless play.
On second and 11, rather than run the ball again, it was deja vu all over again. Ryan went back deep and was sacked for a 12 yard loss. This time he held on to the ball. The Patriots took their first timeout with 3:50 to play. The Falcons were now facing third and 23 from the Patriots 35. A field goal try would be 53 yards, but still very much in Bryant’s range. A run that gained nothing would still give Bryant a chance to finally put the game away. Bryant never got the chance. Shanahan called another pass play. Ryan hit Mohammed Sanu for nine yards, but offensive holding killed the Falcons. Now the Falcons faced third and 33 from the New England 45. A give-up run for a few yards would still give Bryant a chance at a long field goal. For the umpteenth time, Shanahan called a pass. It was incomplete and the Falcons punted. The Patriots took over at their own nine yard line with 3 1/2 minutes to go, two timeouts and the two-minute warning. Everyone knew what was coming.
Brady led a 91-yard drive for another touchdown and the tying two-point conversion. In overtime, the exhausted Atlanta defense never got a chance to rest. The Atlanta offense never saw the ball in overtime as New England marched for the winning touchdown. 31 unanswered points meant a 34-28 Patriots victory.
This never had to happen. If Bryant kicks a field goal to make it 31-12 or 31-20, the game is over. While he could have missed the field goal, he never got the opportunity. Shanahan stole that from him.
Meanwhile, Shanahan is leaving Atlanta to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He is being hired because he is considered an offensive mastermind, an innovative thinker. He is the man behind the worst collapse in the history of the Super Bowl.
While one game should not define a coach, an exception comes if it is the biggest game on the biggest stage. Shananan repeatedly got too cute by half. One running play for zero yards is still better than repeated pass plays that lose over 10 yards. Shanahan is paid millions of dollars, and with that comes scrutiny. He made repeated terrible decisions, and cost his team an all-but-guaranteed Super Bowl. The Falcons will still have memories to last a lifetime, but those memories will be a never-ending nightmare.
The Patriots won the Super Bowl because the Falcons lost it. The Falcons lost it because Kyle Shanahan choked it away. He deserves to be called out on the football carpet.
His players and the long-suffering Falcons fans deserve better.