While a lot of the football world criticized Kyle Shanahan for how things went wrong in the fourth quarter of the Falcons' 34-28 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51, Dan Quinn remembers a lot of the things that went right that day.
“There’s always criticism after the fact, but he made a hell of a lot of good calls, too,” the Falcons coach said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
Shanahan got out of his contract with the Cleveland Browns after the 2014 season so he could join Quinn’s staff as the Falcons’ offensive coordinator. Shanahan spent two seasons working under Quinn.
Shanahan and Quinn will meet for the first time as head coaches Sunday at Levi’s Stadium when the 49ers play host to the Falcons.
Under Shanahan’s offensive guidance, the Falcons had the league’s highest-scoring team and the No. 2-ranked offense in yards, and quarterback Matt Ryan won the NFL’s MVP with the best season of his career. Shanahan was named NFL Assistant Coach of the Year.
But after leading the New England Patriots, 28-3, in the second half of Super Bowl 51, things fell apart.
Shanahan was roundly criticized for being too aggressive with his play calls, the Falcons’ defense imploded, and the Patriots rallied for the victory in overtime. Critics point to a strip-sack of Ryan in the middle of the fourth quarter with the Falcons leading by 16 points and the failure to run the ball later to chew up more clock.
“If there were one or two (calls) that he’d like to have back, well, that is in any game,” Quinn said. “I’d love to have any game rip and go like you want. But all of it, you learn from. And then you don’t really get to apply it until you’re in that moment again.
“The guy is a hell of a play-caller, and a hell of a football coach. I think he proved that then, and continues to do that today.”
The following day, Feb. 6, 2017, the 49ers officially announced Shanahan as the organization’s 20th head coach.
The 49ers currently rank No. 2 in points (30.5) and fourth in yards (388.6), while the Falcons are 14th in points (23.1) and seventh in yards (376.5).
The 49ers (11-2) are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the best record in the NFL. The Falcons (4-9) are playing much better, winning three of their past five games.
Quinn said he always has been impressed with Shanahan’s ability to adapt his scheme, going back to when he implemented the read option in Washington with Robert Griffin as his quarterback.
“Here, we ripped it quite a bit with Matt,” Quinn said. “Now, he’s back in terms of the run game and how that’s a factor. I think he’s done it in a number of different ways. I wouldn’t say I don’t think it’s more emptying the playbook one side or the other. But what he’s always had is a really bold and aggressive nature to make plays.”
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Shanahan was particularly creative with his play-calling in the 49ers’ 48-46 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Quinn said it goes back to Shanahan’s preparation and his “concrete way” he builds a game plan.
“I think that’s an example in that game of, ‘OK, we’re going to have to score some points,’ and find some ways to create some momentum, and he was bold enough to do that,” Quinn said. “That really sums up who he is as a play-caller.”