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Why Shanahan 'never' thought about going for late fourth down

/ by Dalton Johnson
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INGLEWOOD -- The times, they are a changin'. Not too long ago, it wouldn't even be questioned if a coach should go for it on fourth-and-2 from the middle of the field and his team leading by three points in the fourth quarter. 

That was then, this is now.

No single play, no single decision cost the 49ers their 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. Kyle Shanahan will go back to the film and dissect play after play and a long list of his decisions. One of those won't be perhaps his most controversial decision. 

With the 49ers leading 17-14 and 10:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, Shanahan's squad faced a fourth-and-2 situation from the Rams' 45-yard line. He kept the offense on the field, but for one purpose only: To try and get the defense to jump. 

There was no way Shanahan was going to run a play. 

"We were never thinking about going for that," Shanahan said after the loss. 

The numbers say he shouldn't have just thought about going for it, he should have actually gone for it.

Why didn't Shanahan think about going for it? His answer didn't provide much detail. 

"We just didn't want to," he said. "We were up three points and didn't think it was the right decision."

Instead, the 49ers took a delay of game penalty and punted the ball back to the Rams. Nine plays later, a 40-yard Matt Gay field goal tied it up at 17 points apiece with 6:49 left. The 49ers had a 60.1 percent win probability, per ESPN, when they decided to take the penalty. By the time Gay knocked his field goal through the uprights, the Rams owned a 63.3 percent win probability. 

 

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo simply said "that's not my decision to make" when asked about it, and left tackle Trent Williams sided with his head coach. 

"No, no," Williams said. "We tried to draw them offsides. Obviously, they didn't fall for it. You can't miss a chance -- especially in a game like that where we're playing for field goals to win the game.

"I would've punted it ... I thought that was a good decision." 

Shanahan was much more focused on the previous two plays, than his decision to punt. 

After a nine-yard Elijah Mitchell run, the 49ers continued to look in control and faced a second-and-1 situation. Mitchell then was stopped for a yard. Shanahan turned to fullback Kyle Juszczyk on third-and-2 and he was stuffed. 

"Thought the game was exactly the game we wanted up to the second-and 1. The second-and-1, will be thinking about that for a long time. And then third-and-2 that next play. We were just trying to draw them off, we knew we were gonna punt. We weren't gonna go for it there at mid-field on fourth-and-2. And then the play right after that, we missed the chance to get the pick.

"Those three plays in a row, we had our opportunities and we didn't come through on those three plays. After that, it kind of changed into a game we didn't like as much."

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Two more yards and this could be a whole different ballgame with the 49ers celebrating a second trip to the Super Bowl in the last three years. The reality is, they now face a long offseason full of questions and possible regret. 

It sounds like Shanahan won't be thinking about that controversial call much, though. The numbers say otherwise, giving us another what-if to stew about.