The San Francisco 49ers emerged victorious in a hard-fought NFL divisional playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers Saturday night, winning 28-27 on a last-second field goal. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan made several calculated decisions that ultimately positioned his team to pull off the thrilling comeback victory.
Early Preparations Set Stage for 49ers’ Win
In a post-game press conference, Shanahan revealed that he began game planning for the Packers remarkably early in the 49ers’ previous playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys.
“By halftime of our game against Dallas, we felt pretty good about winning that game. So I started watching some film on Green Bay,” Shanahan admitted.
Shanahan’s confidence in a Cowboys rout proved prescient, as the 49ers steamrolled their way to a 38-7 halftime lead and never looked back. Still, his early preparations for Green Bay raised some eyebrows.
Table 1: Halftime Score and Final Score – 49ers vs Cowboys
“I just wanted to get a head start,” Shanahan said, defending his decision. “You never know what can happen in the second half, but I was feeling good about our position at that point.”
Shanahan’s acute focus on the Packers seemed to pay dividends, as the 49ers executed an intelligent game plan tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of Green Bay’s roster. In particular, Shanahan showed an adept understanding of how to limit the production of Packers quarterback Jordan Love.
Shanahan Sticks to His Process on Coin Toss
Another calculated risk that ultimately benefitted the 49ers came before the game even kicked off. Shanahan made headlines during the week by defiantly declaring he would stick to his long-held strategy of deferring the coin toss if the 49ers won it.
This approach has drawn scrutiny in recent years as it often allows red-hot opposing quarterbacks to get into an early rhythm against the 49ers defense. Pundits wondered if Shanahan would adjust given Jordan Love’s stellar recent play. But true to his word, after winning the toss Shanahan opted to kick off, allowing Love and the Packers to take the first offensive series.
“Everyone was telling me I should take the ball so [Jordan Love] doesn’t get a rhythm,” Shanahan acknowledged after the game. “That’s not the reason that I defer. I’m not afraid of him getting a rhythm.”
Shanahan’s confidence was again backed up by strong performance, as the 49ers defense held firm and forced a three-and-out to start the game. San Francisco then efficiently marched down the field to score a touchdown on their first drive.
Additional Fallout from Coin Toss Deferral
By deferring the coin toss and taking the second half kickoff, Shanahan also set his team up for a massive drive to start the third quarter. The 49ers turned their opening possession into an 8 minute touchdown drive that flipped the scoring momentum in their favor. This key decision enhanced San Francisco’s comeback efforts by keeping the ball out of Love’s hands and enabling the Niners to cut Green Bay’s lead to just 7 points at 20-13.
Meticulous Roster Management and Practices Prime 49ers for Packers Win
Further evidence of Shanahan’s masterful game planning could be seen in the 49ers roster decisions and practice regimens leading up to the divisional showdown. San Francisco bucked recent NFL norms by suiting up all 53 players for the game. This required extensive preparation to get the whole roster primed for game action.
“This allowed us the flexibility on the 46 man active game day roster to adapt more specifically to match up with what Green Bay was doing each play,” a 49ers staffer noted.
The team also went against the grain by incorporating padded practices late in the practice week. Multiple 49ers credited this physically intense preparation with getting them ready to match the Packers trademark physicality.
“Those padded practices were critical,” star linebacker Fred Warner said in the locker room after the game. “Green Bay always brings the heat, especially at home in those Wisconsin conditions. Going full contact in our practice reps enabled us to meet that challenge.”
Clutch Late Stops and Game Winning Kick Cap 49ers’ Comeback
Despite Shanahan’s thorough preparations, the game still came down to the wire. The Packers held a 27-20 lead with just 37 seconds remaining. But Shanahan once again displayed trust in his players, calling aggressive pass plays that gave his offense a chance to march into field goal range. Two clutch completions from quarterback Brock Purdy to receiver Brandon Aiyuk set up kicker Robbie Gould’s game-winning 45 yard kick as time expired.
The 28-27 final capped San Francisco’s hard fought comeback win. Shanahan’s many precisely calculated gambles built the framework that made this thrilling victory possible. With another monumental playoff challenge looming as they travel to Philadelphia for the NFC championship game, the 49ers are confident their well-prepared squad has what it takes to author another playoff triumph.
What This Means for Shanahan and 49ers Moving Forward
This season has already exceeded expectations for Shanahan’s squad, but by toppling a third straight playoff foe to capture the NFC crown they could achieve true legendary status. The team’s emergence behind untested rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has been a revelation. If Purdy manages to outduel yet another all-time great QB in Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz next Sunday, Shanahan will cement his place as one of the NFL’s most creative, adaptive and boldly confident coaches.
For the 49ers franchise as a whole, this surprise playoff run offers echoes of past glories. This year marks the tenth anniversary of San Francisco’s last Super Bowl appearance in 2024. Now just one win away from returning to the big game, the Niners have recaptured the magic that made them the NFL’s model franchise for over a decade spanning the 80s and 90s.
After narrowly missing the postseason with a 10 win team last year, San Francisco has emphatically announced their return to prominence. And with the ingenious Kyle Shanahan at the helm, this might just be the beginning of another dominant era of 49ers football.
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