Kyle Shanahan had a golden opportunity to give some of his stars some rest late in the 49ers' 31-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium.
The 49ers handled the Falcons rather easily, and with a short week coming up it would have made sense for Shanahan to pull Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and others, to make sure they didn't take unnecessary hits this late in the season. Shanahan could have even inserted rookie quarterback Trey Lance to handle a few live snaps as the 49ers bled the clock out.
He didn't. Instead, Shanahan chose to ride with his starters, even giving Samuel, who has been battling a groin injury, carries up the middle late in the contest. Even with a Thursday game against the Tennessee Titans coming up, Shanahan never thought of pulling his guys.
"No, not at all," Shanahan said after the win. "All I was thinking about is last time we were up by 14 versus these guys in the fourth quarter we lost, so the fourth quarter didn't really start to relax until I think we got our second first down there and we took about five minutes off the clock on that last drive and then felt alright."
During the 2019 season, the 49ers led the Falcons 19-10 in the fourth quarter but were outscored 19-3 over the final 10 minutes to lose 29-22 at Levi's Stadium.
Shanahan wasn't about to let another collapse happen.
The 49ers now are 8-6 and still hold the No. 6 spot in the NFC standings. With head-to-head tiebreakers against the Falcons (6-8), Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) and Minnesota Vikings (6-7) it is difficult to see a world in which the 49ers don't punch their ticket to the postseason.
While the blowout win over the Falcons was huge for San Francisco's playoff hopes, the 49ers know they have no time to celebrate with the AFC South-leading Titans on the horizon.
“We just know what is at stake," Samuel said after the win Sunday. "We got a game on Thursday. It's a short week. We just got to lock in and continue to build off this game and just continue to play the ball we've been playing.”