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Don’t expect Kyle Shanahan’s challenge flag methods to change anytime soon

We have an explanation to just how a flag is yanked by the 49ers

San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If anyone expected Kyle Shanahan’s process of issuing challenge flags to have changed after the 2022-2023 NFC Championship game, it’s business as usual.

During the NFC Championship, there was a brief moment where the 49ers were in the game and fans felt as if they could win it. During this fleeting moment, on fourth and 3, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts hit DeVonta Smith for 29 yards. From the TV angle, it looked like a sweet one-handed grab. Shortly after, the Eagles were hurrying to the line and snapped the ball before anyone could say anything more.

On replays, it showed Smith didn’t catch it and Shanahan should have thrown a flag. So why didn’t he? Well he answered it in his Friday press conference giving everyone a bit of an insiders look on how the 49ers evaluate potential reviews:

“That play didn’t. I mean, I handled it the same way I always have. When they rush to the line, if it’s a big play and you don’t have any clue, I’d throw it. I think I did that earlier this year versus Jacksonville. I think it was Jacksonville. Do you remember? I threw one and then I think we ended up getting a pick a couple plays later. The problem with that one is everyone on our headsets thought he caught it and then they showed something on the replay that looked like he caught it. So then we didn’t care. Some people go hurry up after an explosive, sometimes on offense they do it just to be safe. But then we had no reactions or anything, so we didn’t want to waste the timeout because the replay we saw the way we thought they were acting from everyone who saw it live from our side, we thought it was complete. Then when we had the ball next time I hear from upstairs, they just saw another angle it was incomplete. So, nothing changed there. If we don’t know at all, and it’s a big play, I usually throw it. But we just thought he caught it because of what we saw and the fact that no one live from where we were standing knew it was questionable.”

It’s a fair answer, they didn’t show the fans the clear and obvious angle where the ball came out until after the Eagles scored a few plays later. Given how quickly they were heading to the line, there wasn’t enough time to burn a time out. Especially when Shanahan is criticized for his challenge success rate.

Kyle Shanahan’s track record for challenge flags is best described as “hit or miss”. For 2023 he’s 0-2 on challenges and for his career he’s 20 for 36. Many of those flags came from headscratching reasons, leaving the 49ers with one less time out when they may need it to end a half.

As questionable as that particular catch turned out to be—and hindsight says Shanahan should have thrown a flag—a better question is: Why should Shanahan have to throw a flag in the first place? Why is replay in such a position that catch such as that are vague and the league doesn’t want to be proactive getting it right? Why can’t there be one of those great “discussions” on the field?

That question can be asked over and over again and the answer is simple: coaches get three (maybe) chances to hold NFL officials accountable. Those are the rules and there’s no sign of them changing anytime soon. This is what the competition committee has voted for.

The 49ers play the Eagles Sunday and Shanahan may reach for the flag again, potentially in a similar situation like the 4th and 3 from last year. Hopefully if a catch like that happens this time they either see something to overturn

Or simply don’t have a clue and chuck it.