Shanahan bristles at the notion his 49ers can't win big games following another Super Bowl loss

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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan watches play against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Kyle Shanahan has heard the criticism that, for all his great accomplishments as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, he is unable to win the big game.

Those calls grew louder after a second Super Bowl loss in five seasons and Shanahan is as eager as anyone to quell them — to prove his doubters wrong but also because it would mean he had won “a damn Super Bowl.”

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“The fact that we keep getting there shows how much we win big games,” Shanahan said Tuesday as the Niners headed home for the offseason two days after a 25-22 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“These two Super Bowls have been tough, losing to Kansas City. ... You guys can have any narrative you want. The success or the failure comes down to one game," he said. “I hope that I can be a part of a team that wins the game at the end of the year. But to say the Niners can’t win a big game would be an extremely inaccurate statement.”

They have just been unable to win the ultimate prize despite coming so close in recent years. San Francisco blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Chiefs to lose the Super Bowl following the 2019 season.

The Niners then blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the 2021 NFC title game to lose to the Los Angeles Rams and lost again at that stage last season to Philadelphia when they played much of the game without a functioning quarterback.

Then came the latest Super Bowl, when they led Chiefs 10-0 early and then allowed Patrick Mahomes to lead two game-tying field goal drives in the fourth quarter and a game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

“I’m just disappointed because we had more than enough opportunities to go and take it,” All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said. “Super Bowls aren’t given. You've got to take them in the moments where they’re there and we didn’t. We had such a team to do it, we had such a great opportunity. We were playing the right way. What sucks is you have to go back to ground zero and start all over again.”

The Niners were able to do that this season after dealing with the pain of back-to-back NFC title game losses.

Brock Purdy went from the final pick of the 2022 draft to franchise quarterback in his first full season as a starter after coming back from major elbow surgery.

He helped give San Francisco one of the most powerful offenses in the game, with a deep group of playmakers led by Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel.

But after averaging 28.9 points per game as the most efficient offense in the league, the 49ers weren't as sharp in the postseason and came up short in key spots in the Super Bowl.

San Francisco had three straight three-and-out drives to start the second half and then settled for field goals at the end of regulation and in overtime following protection breakdowns on third-down plays.

“I still hurt for the guys that have been here, the older guys, the coaches, our fan base and everybody,” Purdy said. “It sucks. We’re right there. Went to overtime and had an opportunity. It sucks but that's the game that we play.”

Shanahan and most players said they hadn't been able to rewatch the game because the wounds were still so raw. Shanahan said he will go over almost every decision he made in the game, knowing one play could have been the difference.

But he didn't regret the decision to take the ball first in overtime, even though under the new rules that guaranteed Mahomes and the Chiefs a possession with knowledge of what they needed even had San Francisco scored a touchdown.

When the Niners settled for a field goal, Mahomes drove down the field — converting a fourth down in his own territory — and then threw the game-ending TD pass to Mecole Hardman.

The Chiefs scored on their final four drives, raising questions about whether defensive coordinator Steve Wilks would take the fall for the loss.

Wilks took over the top-ranked defense in the NFL and had some shaky moments midway through the season and in the first two playoffs games as he tried to put his spin on the existing system.

The defense held down Mahomes for the first 42 minutes before faltering late.

Shanahan didn't directly address whether Wilks would return for a second season, saying he hadn't talked to his coaches yet but expected them to be back.

The Niners expect to bring back most of the core from this season but know that doesn't mean they will be back at this stage again next season.

“We have all the pieces, but it never guarantees you the win,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “At the end of the day, it’s not basketball. It’s not a seven-game series. You can put yourself in the absolute best position and sometimes, you get beat. All you can do is continue to try and put yourself in that best position, but you’re just never guaranteed anything.”



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