49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was one quarter away to becoming a Super Bowl champion three years ago with the Atlanta Falcons.
Well, we all know how that turned out. The New England Patriots would muster the greatest comeback in NFL history by winning Super Bowl LI 34-28 in overtime. What was supposed to be a light jog to the finish after leading by as many as 28-3, the Falcons blew the game with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan at the forefront.
The conservative play-calling that Shanahan reverted to in the second half of the game was one of the main causes for Atlanta losing the Super Bowl.
Now he has a chance to make amends for his errant play-calling today when his San Francisco 49ers take on the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional playoff game at Levi's Stadium.
A game that has the 49ers has the favorites by a touchdown. It is only natural that is skewed towards their favor since they are one of the top teams in the league and are coming off a bye. Although the stages are different, this is a bit like Super Bowl LI for Shanahan.
Leading 28-3 automatically made the Falcons the favorite to win that game. And before the 49ers even take a snap in today's game, they are already the favorite to advance to the NFC title game. This is the perfect opportunity for Shanahan to wash away the narrative of him on the big stage.
Once again, the stages are different of course. But this is still a do-or-die game that the Shanahan's team has to win. They are coming off of a bye as the No. 1 seed and have the luxury of homefield advantage. Meanwhile, the Vikings are coming off an overtime win in New Orleans; having to prepare for the 49ers on a short week.
There is no leeway to give for the 49ers and Shanahan if they end up joining the Saints as another team that was upset by the Vikings. Minnesota is a great team and will be a handful for the 49ers. But the 49ers are the much greater team in terms of talent and coaching.
Losing this game will be an absolute failure given the season they have had in 2019. It will also start to give credence that Shanahan can't get it done in the playoffs from a favorable position.
The way he can avoid falling under that narrative is simple: Win the football game.
There is no excuse for why he cannot get the job done in yet another favorable position. Of course, the lack of playoff experience could be used to alleviate some of the scrutiny if they were in fact to lose. But the 49ers have essentially been playing in playoff games since week 12. Even the players and coaches themselves have pointed out that they have felt like they have been playing playoff games already.
With all of the high stakes game they have played that have gone down to the wire, they practically have been playing playoff football. That excuse cannot suddenly be used in reverse. It certainly wasn't an excuse that was being used when Jim Harbaugh's 49ers went to their first playoff appearance in 2011.
That was a team that dominated all season long and finished with a 13-3 record without any playoff experience. Sound familiar? Only except that team had a rookie head coach who came out of college. Lack of playoff experience didn't hinder that team and the case can be made that the 2019 49ers are better than the 2011 one.
All of the pressure in the world is resting on Shanahan and his team's shoulders. Considering how they spent the month of December, feeling pressure is nothing new to them. In fact, they have welcomed it at this point since they have proven to succeed despite the heavy weight on them.
Saturday should prove no different to them, for if it does, then the hurricane of criticism will fall upon Shanahan for once again losing a favorable playoff game.