They printed shirts. They put it on posters. The screenshot of the score became a world-wide meme after Super Bowl 51.
Former Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Atlanta were in a spot that most franchises dream of being in. Up 28-3 late in the second half against Bill Belichick’s Patriots with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. With a cascade of miracles, the Patriots were able to put up 31 unanswered points and bring home the championship in a game that they had no business winning.
Three years later, Shanahan’s changed jobs, upgraded cities, and has more gray hair, yet the questions about a historic meltdown won’t escape the now-49ers’ head coach. Reporters forget that Dan Quinn — not Kyle Shanahan — was the head coach of that team. They forget that Atlanta’s defense forgot how to stop Tom Brady and that running back Devonta Freeman forgot how to pick up a blitz.
On Wednesday, the 49ers’ offensive play-caller was repeatedly asked about Atlanta’s devastating Super Bowl loss, but he’s patiently responded with more insight and detail every time. Reporters continue to poke at one of the biggest failures on his resume, yet he continues not to fall prey to the bait and reply calmly.
The easiest way to put all that to bed? Win a Super Bowl and execute an offensive game plan that has the Chiefs’ defense out of sorts.
Shanahan commented with regards to game planning on Wednesday that has me firmly believing that the 49ers are going to empty the clip and come guns blazing into the Super Bowl.
“I wish the players could have two weeks every week to put in a game plan,” Shanahan added during Wednesday’s media session. The 49ers had two weeks to install their game plan before the divisional round, and San Francisco came out swinging, putting up 27 points a top-10 Vikings’ defense.
The former Falcons’ OC has waited three years to be able to avenge the 28-3 embarrassment and can do so in the grandest fashion on the biggest stage on Sunday. He’s leading one of the most notable and historic franchises through one of their toughest stages and can deliver a league-leading sixth Super Bowl Title.
Shanahan has the chance to be a made man in Northern California — guiding his childhood team to its first championship in Miami. He’s about to unload everything he’s prepared years for on Sunday, and the doubters that hold “28-3” over his head will no longer have anything to say.
The other member of the 49ers that’s been repeatedly slighted as the week’s gone on — is the face of the franchise, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
While he’s no Patrick Mahomes, naysayers are paralleling Garoppolo to 2000 Ravens’ Trent Dilfer — when he’s more of a system quarterback executing the game plan to perfection, rather than a game manager.
“How will the 49ers win in a shootout?”
“What’s going to happen if Garoppolo’s asked to throw more than 20 times?”
These are real debates that are going on with a mere handful of days after the 49ers demolished the Packers in the NFC title game.
Yet, they tend to forget that Garoppolo leads the NFL in QBR (84.0) when the 49ers are in the fourth quarter, and it’s a one-possession game. The 49ers’ quarterback also has the best passer rating in the NFL (115.7) when trailing, and his completion percentage on deep throws also leads all quarterbacks.
Garoppolo has led the 49ers in a game-winning drive against Pittsburgh early in the season and at New Orleans with their NFC fate hanging in the wind. He dominated the Seahawks’ defense in Century Link Field in the 49ers’ biggest game of the last five years and has been a huge part of the 49ers’ offensive success.
But in a world that thinks “what have you done for me lately?” — everyone only remembers that eight passing attempts in a game that Raheem Mostert and the running backs absolutely dominated.
Garoppolo has a huge chance to silence all the naysayers on Sunday with a winning performance. I don’t think the 49ers will have the rushing success they did against Green Bay or Minnesota and will likely need a balanced performance from the passing attack.
There’s no prior history to think that Garoppolo won’t have a solid performance, given the weather conditions and time for preparation.
The two most important 49ers’ employees have spent all week answering questions about their prior failures and shortcomings and can end all doubts with a 60-minute masterpiece on Sunday.
Garoppolo and Shanahan have answered every question and listened patiently to every naysayer for the past two weeks. I believe they’re going to unleash on a Chiefs’ defense that doesn’t know what’s coming.