Kyle Shanahan will return to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and it's an opportunity for him to atone for mistakes he made during the Atlanta Falcons' loss in Super Bowl LI three years ago.
The Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3 late in the third quarter of that Super Bowl. Shanahan was the Falcons' offensive coordinator at the time, and he had called a brilliant game offensively to that point. Atlanta's lead was 19 entering the fourth quarter, and teams leading by 19 or more points through three quarters in playoff history were 93-0 entering that night.
Everything quickly unraveled for the Falcons, though. Eventually the Patriots scored their second touchdown with 5:56 remaining in the fourth quarter to trim Atlanta's lead to 28-20. The Falcons got the ball back and only needed a field goal to secure the franchise's first Super Bowl title.
The drive started out well for the Falcons as quarterback Matt Ryan hit running back Devonta Freeman on a 36-yard pass play. After a 2-yard run, Ryan went to the air again and found wide receiver Julio Jones for a 27-yard gain on one of the most impressive catches in Super Bowl history. Jones' insane catch put the Falcons on the Patriots' 22-yard line and close enough for a field goal.
Here are the next five plays for the Falcons:
1st-and-10: Freeman rush for 1-yard loss
2nd-and-11: Ryan sacked back at the 35-yard line
3rd-and-23: Ryan passes to Mohamed Sanu for 9-yard gain, holding on Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews
3rd-and-33: Ryan incomplete pass intended for Tyler Gabriel
4th-and-33: Falcons punt
The Patriots took the ball and scored the game-tying touchdown, then clinched their fifth Super Bowl championship by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime.
Shanahan got crushed for his handling of that Falcons drive, and earlier this week, he explained that his biggest regret of the entire game came on a specific play during that drive.
"The play I regretted the most was when we got down there," Shanahan told reporters at his press conference Monday. "We hadn't converted a third down, really the entire second half. I think we were averaging 1 yard per carry rushing. So, when you do that, the formula to keep giving the ball back to someone is to go run, run, pass -- because you’re going to make it third-and-7 at the best every single time. And if you’re not converting on third downs, that makes it tough. Eventually, we did mix it up a little bit. I think we actually ran it more in the second half than we did in the first half.
“... Finally, they got it within a score, we got it back and got pretty aggressive to get it down there. It was a second-and-(11). The last time down there on second-and-10 I called a run, we got a 2-yard loss and a holding call that put us out of field-goal range. This time, I went the opposite, tried to get a play to Julio. They played a different coverage, didn’t get the call I wanted, so I didn’t like the call. I was hoping we could just get rid of it, but they had a pretty good rush, got a sack. Once that happened, I knew we had to throw because now we were out of field goal range. Threw it the next down to Sanu -- ran a choice route breaking out, moved the chains, but they called a holding call on our left tackle, so that put us way back. You had to throw again to get back into it, and we missed it. I wish I didn’t call that play on second-and-11 that led to that sack.”
Shanahan's 49ers will play the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. His starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, was the Patriots' backup when New England pulled off its historic comeback versus Atlanta. Losing Super Bowl LI will stick with Shanahan his entire life -- such is the nature of those types of losses -- but beating the Chiefs and finally getting to lift the Lombardi Trophy would certainly make for a nice comeback story.