SANTA CLARA – A day later, Kyle Shanahan had one regret and made one apology from his first game as an NFL head coach.
Shanahan’s 49ers opened the season on Sunday with a 23-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Levi’s Stadium.
Shanahan, who doubles as his own offensive coordinator, showed an aversion to punting the ball in the middle of the field. And it backfired both times in the first half that he kept his offense on the field for fourth downs.
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the 49ers went for it on a fourth-and-4 situation from the Panthers’ 44-yard line. Quarterback Brian Hoyer was sacked for an 8-yard sack when Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis pushed his way past running back Carlos Hyde.
The Panthers capitalized by moving the ball just 27 yards to set up a field goal.
On the 49ers’ next possession, the 49ers failed on a fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 45 when fullback Kyle Juszczyk was stuffed for no gain. Shanahan said he did not regret that decision or the play call – a fullback dive against a team with five defensive backs on the field. The Panthers also turned their prime field position into a field goal to take a 13-0 lead at the half.
But, Shanahan admitted, the first time to go for it on fourth down was not sound strategy. The 49ers took over after safety Jaquiski Tartt made a one-handed interception and 37-yard return to the 49ers’ 38-yard line.
“Looking back at all of them, the first one is the one I regretted, when it was fourth and 4,” Shanahan said Monday during his day-after-game press conference. “I think there was about three and a half minutes left (in the first half). We were down seven. Tartt just made an unbelievable play on a pick. I thought we were moving the ball pretty well and came up short there on third down, and I just, I believed we were going to get it. I had a lot confidence that we would and it just didn't work out. But, definitely looking back on that, I wish I did punt because I think it would have made it a lot harder for them to go 90 yards.”
In all, the 49ers were just one of four on fourth-down conversions. They would have had another chance, trailing 23-0, but Shanahan did not get a timeout called before a fourth-and-1 opportunity. The 49ers were called for a delay penalty despite Shanahan’s late attempt to signal for a timeout.
Shanahan was shown on TV berating down judge Hugo Cruz. Shanahan said he has made that mistake before. In 2012, while serving as Washington’s offensive coordinator, Shanahan was fined $25,000 for verbal abuse of an official in a game against Cincinnati.
“And if he (Cruz) was here, I would apologize to him now,” Shanahan said. “He's trying to do his best just like I am. I was just frustrated. I wanted a timeout and I yelled it as loud as I could three times and he just didn't hear me. I was mad at him for it. It's not his fault. He's focused on the game, too. Hope he has no hard feelings towards it.”
Overall, it was a rough debut for Shanahan, who six times in nine seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator fielded top-10 units. But Week 1 showed that he has a lot of work in front of him after inheriting a team that went 2-14 last year under Chip Kelly.
“The thing that's tough for a coach when you look on tape and you just feel like you have no chance, then there's not much to say,” Shanahan said. “There's a lot of clips there you could see that we had a lot of opportunities that we missed on, and especially early.
“I think our guys watching the tape, by no means do they just look at it and feel that they didn't have a chance. I think we're all disappointed because there was a number of times that we could have had a chance to be in that game and we just came up short.”