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January 30, 2023

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: The final 2022-2023 edition

The Philadelphia Eagles are final team standing after taking down the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. As you're all aware, they will now head to Arizona to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. 

Normally in the final edition of our NFC Hierarchy/Obituary, we'd say a few nice words about the lone NFC team that won't get eulogized, but, you know, since we'll be covering the Eagles' final game in-depth for the next couple weeks, let's just skip right to the Niners' obituary. 



The three NFL Coach of the Year finalists are the Giants' Brian Daboll, the Jaguars' Doug Pederson, and the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan. The Niners had an impressive season, winning 10 straight games to finish the regular season at 13-4 before winning two playoff games. They did it despite losing their top two quarterbacks to major injuries, and going on a late-season run with the literal last selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy.

Kyle Shanahan is a beast in the regular season. However, he is responsible for a growing mountain of devastating playoff losses.

The 49ers blew a double-digit lead under Shanahan in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against the Chiefs, and before that, Shanahan's hands were dirty in the biggest Super Bowl collapse of all time, when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the Patri*ts.

Last year in the NFC Championship Game, Shanahan punted three times from inside the Rams' 45 yard line:

• In the first quarter, the Niners faced a 4th and 6 from the Rams' 40 yard line. Shanahan punted, giving up 3 winning percentage points. You know who was thrilled to see them punt? The Rams.

• In the third quarter, the Niners faced a 4th and 9 from the Rams' 42 yard line. Shanahan punted, giving up 1 winning percentage point. That decision wasn't quite as egregious. Still, you know who was probably happy to see them punt? The Rams.

• And then finally, with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Niners faced a 4th and 2 from the Rams' 45 yard line. That was an absolute no-brainer "go for it" situation. But, nope, Shanahan tried to draw the Rams offsides, purposely took a delay of game penalty, and then punted, giving up 6 winning percentage points. You know who was ecstatic to see them punt? The Rams.

Poor Jaquiski Tartt took the brunt of the blame for the Niners' loss in that game because he dropped an easy interception, but Shanahan was probably just as culpable for turtling up in obvious "go for it" situations. Shanahan's passiveness allowed the Rams to claw their way back and (once again) erase a double-digit fourth quarter lead.

This year's 49ers playoff meltdown was a little different than the rest in that Shanahan didn't blow a big, late lead. Instead, he was the cause of an insurmountable hole that the Niners had no chance of climbing.

On the Eagles' first drive, DeVonta Smith made what looked like a great 29-yard catch on a 4th and 3. After the play, Smith urged the Eagles offense to hustle up to the line to run another play before the 49ers had a chance to look at the play to determine themselves if it were a catch. The Eagles got a play off, the catch stood, and it was later revealed that Smith probably didn't make that catch.

A while back, the NFL began automatically reviewing all scores and turnovers. And then more recently, officials began reviewing and fixing obviously wrong calls on the field immediately, without necessitating coaches to challenge them. With those two improvements to the rules, challenges have become a far less necessary tool for head coaches. Think about it. How many times over the last couple of seasons have you been watching an NFL game and a team couldn't challenge a play because they ran out of challenges? I can't think of any. It just doesn't happen anymore. And yet, a lot of NFL coaches are protecting these challenges like it's 1999. Shanahan somehow didn't just challenge that play, despite Smith sort of giving away that he was unsure if he made the catch. 

On the 49ers' first offensive drive, Shanahan called a play action pass that required backup TE Tyler Kroft to block Haason Reddick. That went about as expected, as Reddick strip-sacked Purdy, and knocked him out of the game with an elbow injury.

On their next drive, he did it again! Lol.

And yet with each passing Shanahan failure, somehow people line up to defend his bad decisions in these big games. For example:

In the leadup to the NFC Championship Game matchup, Nick Sirianni stressed the need to have a plan for the 49ers' best players on every play they run. Don't let their best players wreck the game. Seems logical! 

You can run your offense while also being mindful of how certain plays might be vulnerable to disaster if an elite player on the other team is given a favorable matchup. There is no "Well actually..." here. Just don't try to block Haason Reddick with a tight end, lol. And then after he produces a turnover and knocks your quarterback out of the game, maybe don't go right back to it on the next drive.

And this is the guy who is probably going to win NFL Coach of the Year honors. 



And that does it for our NFC Hierarchy/Obituary this season. 🪦

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