MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- For 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, the Super Bowl is probably starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day: He's reliving the worst day of his life over and over again, except with him, that day just happens to be Super Bowl Sunday.
Three years ago, Shanahan was on the losing sideline as the Falcons offensive coordinator in a game where Atlanta blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history (You probably heard about it, the Falcons were leading 28-3). This year, Shanahan lived through another nightmarish collapse as his 49ers blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter in a 31-20 loss to Kansas City in a Super Bowl that -- ironically enough -- was played on Groundhog Day.
For Shanahan and the 49ers, this game was a collapse in every sense of the word. With just 6:30 left to play, the 49ers held a 20-10 lead, which should have been insurmountable. At least that's what the numbers said. Going into Sunday, there had been 165 games this season where a team led by 10 or more points with under seven minutes left to play. Before the Super Bowl, the team in the lead had been 164-1. It's now 164-2 thanks to the 49ers.
The 49ers meltdown can't be blamed on one person and that's because it was a team-wide effort. Once the fourth quarter started, the offense suddenly couldn't move the ball, the defense couldn't stop Patrick Mahomes and Kyle Shanahan could only hopelessly watch as this all began to happen in front of him.
The Chiefs used an epic fourth-quarter comeback to win their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, and there's a lot to go over. Will Brinson and the Pick Six Podcast Superfriends break down everything about Chiefs-49ers in Super Bowl LIV; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Shanahan didn't see a collapse in this game though, what he saw instead was a series of missed opportunities, with many of those coming from Jimmy Garoppolo, who completed just 3 of 11 passes for 36 yards in the fourth quarter (Overall, he went 20 of 31 for 219 yards and he looked unstoppable at certain points in the third and fourth quarter).
After the game, Shanahan rattled off a list of missed opportunities that were still bugging him.
"There in the fourth quarter, we had a low pass to [George] Kittle that [the Chiefs] made a good play on," the 49ers coach said. "We had another big one to Deebo [Samuel] that sailed over his head, I think Jimmy got hit as he was throwing, I couldn't tell, so that was a big one. Then Jimmy had [George] Kittle really open on the next drive over the middle, but Chris Jones did a hell of a job tipping the ball, so that ended that and then we didn't convert the third down."
Interestingly enough, one play Shanahan didn't mention is one that could have put this collapse on ice. With just 1:40 left to play and the Niners trailing 24-20, Garoppolo had Emmanuel Sanders open down the middle for a potential 49-yard touchdown, but that score never happened, because Jimmy overthrew him. It wouldn't have been an easy throw, but it's a throw that could have stopped the 49ers collapse in its tracks and potentially brought a championship to San Francisco.
That one throw basically epitomized the entire fourth quarter for the 49ers offense: There were plenty of opportunities, but they weren't able to capitalize. Sometimes, a collapse is simply death by 1,000 paper cuts, and that's what it felt like watching the 49ers give their lead away.
With Garoppolo struggling, the 49ers offense looked mortal late in the game. After making it through the first three quarters without a punt, the 49ers came out and punted on their first two possessions of the fourth quarter, which seemed to happen at the detriment of San Francisco's defense. After shutting down Mahomes for the better part of three quarters, the 49ers defense all the sudden couldn't get off the field in the fourth quarter, and it was starting to show.
Mahomes deserves all the credit in the world for the Chiefs win, but he definitely got an assist from the 49ers offense. Since Garoppolo and friends couldn't move the ball, that left the Niners defense on the field forever in the fourth quarter and it was pretty clear they were starting to get gassed.
Although the 49ers offensive collapse seemed to gradually happen, it felt like their defensive collapse was rooted in one play: A third-and-15 that came with just over seven minutes left to play. With the 49ers ahead 20-10, the game could have changed if San Francisco had been able to force a punt, but this happened instead.
After that play, the defense looked deflated, tired and like they had lost their will to win.
The Chiefs would get a touchdown just five plays after that completion to Tyreek Hill, and although the 49ers were still leading 20-17 at that point, the collapse felt inevitable.
Shanahan, who's still feeling the sting of 28-3, knows damn well this one is going to sting for awhile.
"Everyone's disappointed and they should be," the 49ers coach said. "I wouldn't expect anything different. Guys put their heart into the season and came up one game short. I'm extremely proud of us, but this is going to take a little bit of time to get over."
Instead of going home with his first Super Bowl win, Shanahan -- fair or not -- is now going to have to deal with the reputation of someone who chokes in the big game. That's the nature of football, and that's what happens when you're on the losing side of the two biggest fourth quarter collapses in Super Bowl history (The 49ers loss was tied for the second biggest fourth quarter blown lead in SB history, behind only the Falcons).
In the history of the Super Bowl, teams are 29-3 when leading by 10 or more points in the fourth quarter, and somehow, two of those losses belong to Shanahan. No, Shanahan wasn't the Falcons head coach in 2016, but for some reason, he's become the coach most associated with the loss. For Shanahan, the only way he's going to be able to put that behind him is if he actually wins the big game.
Even when his team was leading 20-10, Shanahan did admit that he never once felt comfortable.
"No, I don't ever feel good until the game is over," Shanahan said.
From a coach who's seen the worst that the Super Bowl has to offer, truer words were never spoken. Shanahan will have all season to think about what happened in the fourth quarter or why he decided to let the clock run down at the end of the first half instead of taking an easy timeout.
For now, Shanahan is going to have to relive these Super Bowl losses over and over and over, his own personal Groundhog Day from hell. In some sort of cosmic joke, this was a Super Bowl that was played on Groundhog Day and featured a commercial from the guy who starred in a movie called Groundhog Day.
At some point, time will move forward for Shanahan, but that might not happen as soon as he'd like.