Kyle Shanahan is rarely doubted in his play-calling ability, but the 49ers coach raised a few eyebrows when he decided to go for an onside kick Sunday.
Late in the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ 25-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Shanahan's offense marched down the field to make it a one-score game. At first, it appeared the 49ers scored with 2:09 left on the game clock, but quarterback C.J. Beathard’s touchdown pass to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne was overturned.
Beathard handed the ball to running back Jerick McKinnon on the ensuing play, who scored with 2:02 remaining. The 49ers' best choice on the ensuing kickoff appeared to be to kick it long in hopes of a touchback.
Shanahan instead elected for an onside kick. The Eagles received the ball and began their drive around midfield rather their own 25. The 49ers’ defense forced a three-and-out, but after the Eagles' punt, Beathard's final drive started on the 12-yard line with only 1:40 left on the game clock.
“I totally planned on going for the touchback when we scored with 2:09,” Shanahan said Monday. “I called the play that we were going to go for two on, I was saying ‘OK, we’re going to kick it off, it’s 2:09, so we will get the two minute [warning] and we have our time outs, so we should get it back with good field position.’
"But when they reviewed it, and they took the touchdown away, and then we scored and it was at 2:02, then I was worried about it, and I changed my mind because I thought the only way of getting it past the two-minute warning was to kick it out past the end zone.”
If the kickoff had landed anywhere inside the end zone, the Eagles returner simply could've run out into the field to start the clock. Shanahan said he was surprised only a second elapsed off the clock after the 49ers' onside kick.
He wanted to give the 49ers offense as much time as necessary for a possible game-winning drive, but a difference of seven seconds changed Shanahan's mind.
It might've changed the outcome of the game, too.