With Super Bowl LIV tied at 10 late in the first half, the San Francisco 49ers got a crucial third-down stop. They had all three timeouts remaining. And if they’d used one of them, they’d have had a chance to go into halftime with a lead.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan, for some reason, did not use one. And just about everybody – including Shanahan’s GM – wondered why.
Fox cameras caught Niners general manager John Lynch helplessly making timeout signals in his suite as his head coach stood frozen on the sideline, watching the clock tick down toward 1:00.
— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) February 3, 2020
The inexplicable clock management might have cost the 49ers points, too. They lost close to 40 seconds, and got the ball with 59 seconds left on the clock. They would have had more than a minute-and-a-half had Shanahan called time.
Instead, when Jimmy Garoppolo completed a pass to Jeff Wilson out to the Niners’ 45-yard line on their first third-down play of the drive ... there were only 14 seconds remaining. That’s when Shanahan used his first timeout of the half.
After George Kittle was called for offensive pass interference on a long completion on the very next play, the Niners’ hopes of points before the half were dashed. The drive would have very much been alive with 30 extra seconds to work with. Shanahan, instead, threw two of his three timeouts in the trash can and walked to the locker room at 10-10.
Shanahan explains his no-timeout decision
The Chiefs went on to win Super Bowl LIV, 31-20. Three, or even seven extra points would have been huge for the Niners down the stretch.
So of course, fans and reporters returned to the late-first-half clock management after the game. Shanahan was asked about it at his news conference. He pointed out that the Chiefs also had three timeouts remaining, and a three-and-out would have given Patrick Mahomes another shot at points before the half.
“Felt real good, 10-10, especially with us starting with the ball,” Shanahan said of his feeling after two quarters. “Thought we shoulda got points,” he said of the drive he intentionally shortened by not taking a timeout.
Shanahan explains decision to let the clock run at the end of first half instead of calling timeout pic.twitter.com/2LU2OKsvYz
— KNBR (@KNBR) February 3, 2020
His rationale isn’t incoherent. But the decision showed a stunning lack of faith in Garoppolo, and was terribly conservative in a tie game.
On the other side, Andy Reid’s aggressiveness stole points for the Chiefs early in the game. He twice decided to go on fourth down in field goal range. Those two decisions netted the Chiefs 10 points from those two drives instead of six. Shanahan’s unwillingness to matched Reid’s aggressiveness very well might have cost the 49ers.
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