Fans typically look for honesty from the members of the team, let it be coaches or players, but rarely do they receive openness from their favorite teams. At the end of the year press conference two weeks ago, 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan might have let out too much, admitting something that fans spend way too much time dwelling on — the “What If” scenarios?
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were asked about their expectations for 2018 and how their performance pales in comparison to those preseason wishes. Here is the 49ers’ head coach’s response:
...I look at this year and we went through some tough things this year. I look back on it and with the stuff we went through, are you going to have a great record? You have a chance to. But, odds are it’s going to be tough. We only won four games. I’m not happy with that despite what’s happened. I believe specifically going through the games and everything, I think we should have won seven. So, I’m down about that. That’s what I’m upset with myself for in trying to find a way to get those games that you could have won a couple of those close games that you feel as a coach, just watching the tape, going into the game, that you should have done...
It’s not often that one hears a coach say “we should” have done this, but it was refreshing to hear Shanahan open up with the media. But how factually accurate was his statement? Should the San Francisco 49ers have finished the season 7-9?
Let’s try and decode which three games that Shanahan is referring to and see what the 49ers could have done differently in each of those to come away victorious instead. Looking down their schedule, the 49ers lost five games by five points or less, so it must be one of those games. These close losses were at the Chargers, at the Packers, at the Cardinals, vs. the Giants and vs. the Bears.
Chargers 29 - 49ers 27
This loss is one that’s sure to irk Shanahan and one that he thinks the 49ers should have in the W column. San Francisco went up 27-26 off of the right foot of kicker Robbie Gould and the 49ers’ defense was able to hold quarterback Phillip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense to three points on the next drive, making it 29-27, Chargers.
The 49ers’ offense had two more chances, one being a three-and-out and the other being a C.J. Beathard interception that ended the game. After being up for a majority of the game, the 49ers allowed the Chargers to rally back in the game and couldn’t hold them off.
Cardinals 18 - 49ers 15
The next loss that probably still keeps Shanahan up at night is probably the second Cardinals’ loss, where the Cardinals took the lead late in the fourth quarter and that was the difference in the game. With 11:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had only scored three points, were showing no signs of life and were down two possessions to the 49ers.
That’s when it flipped, as the Cardinals scored two touchdowns, with no response from the 49ers and it all ended on a third-and-goal pass to wide out Christian Kirk to seal the game with 1:42 left in the game. The 49ers’ fourth-quarter offense was pathetic and something Shanahan would probably want back if he could go back in time.
Giants 27 - 49ers 23
The Monday Night Football showdown against the Giants at Levi’s Stadium is surely one the 49ers coach would want to avenge. With 2:46 left in the game, the 49ers were up 23-20, kicking the ball back to quarterback Eli Manning and Co. The Giants had not shown life all season long and with the 49ers’ home crowd behind them, most expected the defense to be able to stop Manning. With 53 seconds left, Manning was able to find wide receiver Sterling Shepard for a touchdown. Quarterback Nick Mullens tried to drive the ball down for the 49ers, but it was too little too late.
Playing the hypothetical game doesn’t help now, but it gives great insight into what Shanahan thinks the 49ers are capable of doing late in these games. It’s been the story of the 49ers’ seasons since Lynch and Shanahan took over — the late-game collapses. Hopefully in 2019, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Shanahan don’t leave these 50-50 games in the air and are able to seal the deal late.