That was a great game, full of twists and turns and some great football. In the end, though, the 49ers blew a 20-10 lead in the Super Bowl, a result that many Falcons fans undoubtedly felt a grim sort of joy to be watching.
You can get a game recap a million other places and it’s not our football team, so let’s talk about the big picture coming out of this game.
Takeaway #1: Kyle Shanahan has a new label
On one hand, Kyle Shanahan is a brilliant coach. The Falcons don’t make the Super Bowl in 2016 without him at the helm of that offense, and the 49ers aren’t even sniffing a deep playoff run without him this year. His genius speaks for itself, and there are simply not many (if any) better offensive minds in the NFL today.
But here’s the thing about brilliant coaches, or really brilliant people from any walk of life: The same intelligence, planning, and self-belief that propel them to great heights can make it difficult for them to learn from their mistakes. The Falcons lost that Super Bowl for many reasons, but one of them was that Shanahan got away from simply bleeding the clock and leaning on an effective ground game and swung for the fences, which helped lead to the collapse I swear we’re going to stop talking about someday soon. With the 49ers and with a lesser quarterback at the helm, he did...basically the same thing. That’s a reason why “choker” and “historically bad 4th quarter coach” are going to be bandied about today, however slight the merit may be.
Shanahan’s curious game management at the end of the first half, when the team was tied 10-10 with the Chiefs, showed a quiet lack of faith that Jimmy Garoppolo could lead the kind of drive that great quarterbacks would obviously attempt with just a minute to go, especially against an offense like Kansas City. From there, the team didn’t lean on the (still effective) ground game that had gotten them to that point, and ultimately Kansas City ended up scoring 21 unanswered points to win.
Those miscues helped set up the loss, but they were once again not the primary reason for it. The defense played admirably through much of the day, forcing Patrick Mahomes into errors and keeping things close, but they would ultimately wither against one of the league’s best offenses, allowing painfully blown plays that got Kansas City back into it. t’s also painfully obvious that while Garoppolo is a better quarterback than, say, Jared Goff, he isn’t a great one. Shanahan schemed him a couple of opportunities for wide open throws that might’ve changed the course of the game, and Jimmy G couldn’t come close to hitting them. Garoppolo will be 29 this coming year, and I’m not certain the 49ers will be willing to move ahead with him as their slam dunk franchise guy any longer after his playoff run.
It’s now very obvious that Shanahan can get you to a Super Bowl, but he has some nasty bad habits that could help cost you one, too. He’s going to get a reputation as a choker that isn’t entirely deserved, but it’s nice to have someone besides the Falcons carrying around that particular mantle, even if it doesn’t last.
Takeaway #2: Andy Reid will finally get the recognition he deserves
Reid has fallen painfully short time and time again. He has a beyond sterling .618 career winning percentage in 21 seasons, good for 28th all-time and just behind Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, and Sean Payton among active coaches, but he’s just .500 in the playoffs even now and had never won a Super Bowl.
As we’re about to see with Kyle Shanahan, being involved in big-time playoff and Super Bowl losses tends to tarnish your reputation. Reid’s Eagles and Chiefs had lost in awful fashion so many times that it seemed like he might always be known as just a great regular season coach, but with Patrick Mahomes having a lousy game by his standards, Reid went deep into his bag of tricks and got it done.
Now he should be properly evaluated as one of the great coaches of his era, not to mention one of the most flexible, creative thinkers. Unlike Belichick, Reid has produced a great coaching tree that has spread across the league—and Eric Bieniemy ought to be next—and he’s got his ring at last. No one’s going to call him Belichick or Lombardi, but it’s nice to see a much-maligned figure get his due.
If Mahomes can smooth our his Super Bowl nerves and the Chiefs enjoy another good draft or two in the short term, they’ll likely be back, too.
Takeaway #3: Both of these teams should be good for a long time
I wrote this on Twitter last night and had my face melted by the sheer number of “are you crazy, this is the NFL” responses, but both the 49ers and Chiefs should be problems in their conferences for years to come.
Much of that has to do with coaching. Andy Reid has always been a good-to-great coach, and even with Patrick Mahomes’ inevitable mega extension, he’ll get the most out of the talent he has on hand. The AFC also remains the weaker conference in terms of the actual number of quality teams, meaning the Chiefs should at least be in the playoffs for the next few seasons, with a chance to do so much more.
Ditto the 49ers, who will have a great offense as long as Kyle Shanahan is in town. Watching the Super Bowl, it’s beyond obvious that Jimmy Garoppolo is a good but not great quarterback, but Shanahan got more than enough out of him and a largely anonymous offensive line and running back group to push this team into the Super Bowl. Cap issues will rear their head, of course, but the defensive talent on hand and the inevitable quality offense will make San Francisco a contender for a while unless something goes very wrong.
The Falcons can clearly beat them, though, so who cares?
Takeaway #4: Great offenses win
For our final takeaway, let’s just note that two of the league’s great offenses were in the Super Bowl, and perhaps the greatest passing game won it. That should be a strong lesson for teams across the league who are trying to find the balance between their offensive and defensive investment, and for the Falcons, who are banking on a never-elite offensive coordinator to improve with a group that might lose Austin Hooper this offseason. Things will balance out at some point, but in this moment the elite offenses are the ones who push their way into the Super Bowl, and teams that ignore that lesson are doomed to fall short.