All week long, we heard that Matt LaFluer and his Packers will completely change their game plan to prevent the week 12 thrashing at the hands of the 49ers, 39-8. Kyle Shanahan also pounded into his 49ers players that the results will be much different and that they would have to earn the right to go to Super Bowl LIV. They were both right… In week 12, the score was 23-0 at halftime… In the NFC Championship game, the score was 27-0 at halftime…
It was like the Niners played the Vikings in consecutive weeks. The Vikings wore their white, green and gold uniforms this week instead of their purple uni’s. And like last week, the Niners simply pounded the rock running 42 times out of their 50 plays for 285 yards averaging 6.8 yards per play. Raheem Mostert ran 29 times for a franchise best 220 yards scoring 4 TD’s. His performance was second only to Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s NFL record 248 yards back in 1986 vs the Dallas Cowboys. And like last week, the O-Line dominated the Packer’s front seven. Even though the Packers knew what was coming, they were over-powered and had no answers. Shanahan’s game plan was to exploit the Packer’s 27th ranked run defense and it worked beautifully. He had planned to balance the run/pass plays calls but as the game went, there was no need to pass as the run game kept working.
Jimmy Garoppolo threw only 8 times for the entire game and completed 6. He threw only 2 times in the second half and completed both passes. His totals were 77 yards with a QB rating of 104.7. The running game was so effective, Nick Mullens could have played and the result would have been the same.
In my mind, there were two key plays early in the game which shaped the game’s outcome. The first one came in a scoreless game with the Niners on the Packers’ 36 yard line facing a 3rd and 8. The Packers geared up their Defense for what seemed like an obvious pass play with Jimmy G. in shotgun formation. Instead, Shanahan called a draw play to Mostert who rambled in for the first TD score of the day. The second key play took place when Shanahan trusted Robbie Gould with a 54 yard Field Goal extending the lead to 10-0. If Gould had missed, the Packers would have had great field position. Just shows how much confidence Shanahan has in his players.
Raheem Mostert exemplifies the type of players that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have brought onto this team. Since 2015, undrafted Raheem had been cut by six teams… The Eagles, Dolphins, Ravens, Browns, Jets and Bears before joining the Niners in 2017. Shanahan liked his toughness, not as a running back, but as a Special Team’s gunner. Even this year, he was 3rd on the running back depth chart behind Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman. He got the majority of the workload in this game only after Coleman got injured with a separated shoulder. But in recent games, it was clear that Raheem was getting most of the carries as Shanahan began trusting him. Raheem made a list of the six cut dates and looks at this list before every game as a reminder that nothing is given to him and that he must earn everything.
Raheem is not the only story on this Niner team:
- Nick Mullens (backup to Jimmy G.) was undrafted.
- Matt Breida was undrafted.
- Jeff Wilson (4th on the running back depth chart) was undrafted.
- Justin Skule (filled in when Joe Staley was injured) was drafted in the 6th round.
- Azeez Al-Sharir (filled in when Kwon Alexander was injured) was undrafted.
- Dre Greenlaw was drafted in the 5th round.
- Elijah Lee was drafted in the 7th round.
- Mark Nzoecha was drafted in the 7th round.
- Marcell Harris was drafted in the 6th round.
- Ben Garland (starting Center after Weston Richburg was injured and out for the year) was undrafted. Richburg was having an All-Pro year until his injury but Garland has stepped in and the team has not skipped a beat.
- Sheldon Day was drafted in the 4th round.
- Kevin Givens was undrafted.
- Julian Taylor was drafted in the 7th round.
- DJ Jones was drafted in the 6th round. He was injured and out for the year, but during the first half of the year, DJ was playing at an elite level at Defensive Nose Guard.
- Kentavious Street was drafted in the 4th round.
- Kendrick Bourne was undrafted.
- Richie James was drafted in the 7th round.
- George Kittle was drafted in the 5th round.
- Levine Toilolo was drafted in the 4th round.
- Ross Dwelley was undrafted.
- Daniel Brunskill (filled in for Mike McGlinchey while he was injured) was undrafted.
- Anthony Zettel was drafted in the 6th round.
- Ronald Blair was drafted in the 5th round.
- Kyle Juszczyk was drafted in the 4th round.
- Richard Sherman was drafted in the 5th round.
- K’Wuan Williams was undrafted.
- DJ Reed was drafted in the 5th round.
- E-Man Moseley was undrafted.
- Mike Person was drafted in the 7th round.
- Robbie Gould was undrafted.
The veteran players all say that this is the best and closest knit locker room that they have ever been on. The list of players who were drafted in the later rounds or undrafted all have something to prove and all of them work together in unison to make the team chemistry something special. Ahkello Witherspoon is a great example of how close this team is. Last week, Shanahan benched Ahkello after he had a poor start and inserted E-Man Moseley. He also pulled Witherspoon late in the Seattle game after he was being torched by DK Metcalf. Instead of sulking, Ahkello went to Shanahan and asked if he could play on special teams so that Moseley can focus on playing Corner Back. Another example are the Wide Receivers. They not only pull for one another, they pull for the entire team. When a team throws only 8 passes for an entire game, you expect some/all of the receivers would complain about the lack of plays they make. On this team, Samuel, Sanders, and Bourne made plays all day long by blocking downfield for Mostert. And All-World Kittle loves to block much more than catch passes. Everyone plays for the team and not for themselves on this roster. That is a big reason that cry-babies like Antonio Brown do not interest Lynch nor Shanahan.
It was only fitting that during the post-game ceremonies that Jed York handed the NFC Championship trophy to Mike Shanahan as Honorary Captain who then presented the trophy to his son Kyle. After being so critical of Jed for so many years, he grew up to be a great owner after he hired John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan to run football operations, then got out of the way. Now, one can see the similarities between the then Eddy DeBartolo/John McVay/Bill Walsh team to the now Jed York/John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan team.
Lastly, Kyle Shanahan’s history has a lot to do with the make-up of this current Championship team. He was hired/fired from multiple teams.
- Kyle was with the Texans from 2006-2010 as their Receivers coach for the first two years and their Offensive Coordinator for the last two years.
- In 2010, he joined his father Mike, in Washington as their Offensive Coordinator. On that coaching staff, Mike Shanahan also had Matt LaFleur (now the Packer’s Head Coach) and Sean McVay (now the Rams Head Coach). Sean’s Grandfather is John McVay, the former GM of the 49ers. Although the Redskins had an “All World Coaching staff”, in 2013, Mike and his entire coaching staff were fired as they all wanted Kirk Cousins to be their starting QB while the owner wanted Robert Griffin III to start. Now it’s clear to understand why the Redskins have been a failing organization for so long.
- In 2014, Kyle was hired as the Offensive Coordinator of the Browns and served under Mike Pettine (now Defensive Coordinator for the Packers). Kyle quit after one year as he disagreed with the Browns management’s decision to draft Johnny Manziel instead of Jimmy Garoppolo. And, like the Redskins, it is clear why the Browns have been a failing organization for so long.
- In 2015, Kyle was hired as the Falcons’ Offensive Coordinator. He took an 8-8 team to an 11-5 record and on to Super Bowl VI making Matt Ryan an All-Pro QB. Kyle called a perfect game in the Super Bowl through the first 3 quarters and lead the Patriots 28-3. But, he called some very aggressive plays which didn’t work and allowed the Patriots to come back and win. He was rightfully criticized for his late game play calling but at the same time, his brilliant offensive mind allowed him to be selected as the 49ers Head Coach in 2017.
So, Kyle also has plenty to prove along with his players. They all have had their share of disappointments in their lives and are dead set in leaving those failures behind them.
Bring on Patrick Mahomes and the KC Chiefs!!!