SANTA CLARA -- Kyle Shanahan has done a lot of thinking since one of the worst professional days of his coaching career.
In the days since the 49ers blew a 10-point mid-fourth-quarter lead and lost Super Bowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-20, on Sunday, Shanahan has been in constant thought.
“I've been through it all,” he said on Thursday. “Probably a thousand times in the last three days.”
The 49ers had control of the game.
Then, they didn’t. Just like that.
The 49ers’ offense failed to sustain drives; and the 49ers’ defense failed to stop Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense.
“I also am not a good liar,” said Shanahan, looking like a man who had not gotten a lot of sleep in recent days. “How you guys hear me talk is exactly how I feel. I'm really upset about the loss because it's hard to get there. I personally thought we had the best team in the NFL this year.
“We weren't. We’ve got to deal with that. I truly believe that we had that and we should have proved that, and we didn't get that done.”
The road to get back to the Super Bowl is difficult. Super Bowl losers face a particularly difficult challenge. Only three teams that lost the Super Bowl returned the following season to win it all. Call if a hangover, if you will. But Shanahan believes the main issue is just the difficulty that every team faces to advance to the Super Bowl.
“It's not an easy thing to do,” Shanahan said. “But I also think that we’ve got different people than a lot of teams have.”
Shanahan reminded his team during the end-of-season meeting on Wednesday how it all began in 2017. The 49ers started the first season under Shanahan and general manager John Lynch at 0-9. No team that opened a season with nine consecutive losses had ever won more than three games that season. The 49ers finished with a 6-10 record.
“I just look at little things like that,” Shanahan said. “There are lots of stats, but I think we have a lot of stats that prove we're different people, and I want those guys to keep that in their minds. We’ve got to deal with some of this and get it out of our system. I know it will fuel us more and we'll be pumped to come back and get after it.”
Players and coaches often talked this season about the chemistry on the 49ers this season. There will be comings and goings to the 53-man roster. Some difficult decisions await. and Lynch said that is not all bad. He said he views it as an opportunity for the team to strengthen its roster for 2020.
Due to tighter salary-cap restraints, a roster that is more set and the lack of picks on the first and second days of the draft, there is likely to be less turnover than in most offseasons. Lynch recalled how the 49ers signed 14 free agents in the 2017 offseason as the 49ers began rebuilding the roster.
“Those days aren't happening anymore,” Lynch said. “We can't go to the grocery store and say, ‘I'll have that, I'll have that, I'll have that.’ It is more like, ‘I'll have that, but I might have to put that back.’ There are tradeoffs.
“And we're committed to finding a way to be better. We'd love to keep everybody. This team is special. There's a special feel to it. We hope that's the case. It's probably not likely, it just doesn't happen in this league.”
Lynch was part of a Super Bowl-winning team as a player with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was the first time he experienced defeat in that situation.
“It stinks, you know, it really does,” Lynch said. “I think having it in your grasp and you’ve got such a group of men, a locker room, that just cares. They care about each other. They have each other's back.
“To not finish the deal, it hurts. That will stick with us for a lifetime. But, to me, it's about what you do going forward.”
The feeling is all-too-familiar for Shanahan, who was the offensive play-caller when the Atlanta Falcons lost a 28-3 lead in the second half and fell to the New England Patriots in overtime of Super Bowl LI just three years ago. He made it through that time. He said he will make it through, again.
“I've lost the Super Bowl before,” he said. “I've been a part of a bigger lead that was lost, so I'm very well aware of what goes with that.
“That's what's really cool about sports. It's what hurts about sports. It's what is fun about sports. It's why I like sports. It's also why everyone likes watching it because there is a lot of emotion in there. When I do feel this way and stuff, it makes me feel stronger because it does hurt a lot. I also know how much I can deal with it. That's the worst stuff that happens. I can't wait to try our butts off to get back there next year.”