A nightmare reunion awaits 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and Falcons

First came the 49ers’ crushing injury news, next will come the inevitable questions this week about how he helped the Falcons blow a Super Bowl title nearly three years ago.

Kyle Shanahan sure didn’t get much time to savor a 49ers’ victory for the ages in New Orleans on Sunday.

As the play-caller for the Falcons, Shanahan had a hand in the worst collapse in NFL history when Atlanta blew a 25-point second-half lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

“I’ll go back through every play for the rest of my life,” Shanahan once said of his curious late-game Super Bowl play-calling.

Shanahan was assessed a lot of the blame for the loss, but still shared some with head coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan, who nonetheless seemed to mostly fault Shanahan. For the first time since the Super Bowl in Houston, all three will have an unwelcome opportunity to relive the nightmare when the Falcons come to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.

Aside from that fateful February night in 2017, a main storyline for Sunday’s game is San Francisco’s opportunity to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in six years. But there’s also a subplot. And while he’d never say it publicly, it could be even more personal for Shanahan than his 40th birthday he’ll celebrate Saturday.

The game against Atlanta represents the fourth and final stop this season on what we’ll call the Shanahan Revenge Tour — games against teams he once worked for as an assistant coach. His team has already provided him with victories over Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington. A victory Sunday would complete the sweep.

Here’s a closer look at what we might expect during Sunday’s game:

GAME ESSENTIALS: 49ers (11-2) vs. Falcons (4-9) at Levi’s Stadium, Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1:25 p.m. (PT) on FOX-TV (Ch. 2). ODDS: 49ers -11.


An unimposing offensive line

The Falcons invested heavily in their offensive line in the offseason and now have a unit that takes up a whopping 22 percent of its cap space — led by ex-Cal center Alex Mack’s $11.05 million salary. But despite some positive signs, the infusion of money into the line hasn’t consistently delivered. They drafted two offensive linemen in the first round (Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary), and also signed two big guards (Jamon Brown and James Carpenter). They were the league’s fifth-worst offensive line through the season’s first 13 weeks, according to Football Outsiders. The unit has given up 45 sacks, the fourth-most in the league. Still, the line worked fine against the lowly Panthers, whom the Falcons beat 40-20 on Sunday. For the second game this season, left tackle Jake Matthews didn’t allow a single pressure. Right tackle McGary had his best game of his rookie season, according to Pro Football Focus. He had season-high grades for both pass blocking (80.2) and run blocking (85.9).

An improving, but unstable defense

The defense hasn’t been much help. Through eight games, the Falcons gave up an average of 31.25 points per game. Since then, they’ve given up just 18.6 points per game, going 3-2 after a 1-7 start to the season. That turnaround may not be enough to save Quinn’s job — he took over defensive play-calling in the offseason, but gave it up again after those hideous first eight games. Former 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulrich is one of the de facto defensive coordinators as he calls plays on first and second downs in an eye-opening defensive plan. Raheem Morris then makes the calls on third-down plays. Both coordinators will have to make do without Atlanta’s top defensive back, Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, who broke his right forearm in Sunday’s win and will be out for the season.

One less star receiver to worry about

The 49ers catch a break this week with the news Falcons standout receiver Calvin Ridley will miss the rest of the season due to an abdominal injury suffered against Carolina. Ridley, who teamed with star Julio Jones to form a potent receiving tandem, had five catches for 76 yards and a TD in Sunday’s win before leaving with the injury. He’ll finish the year with 63 catches for 866 yards and seven touchdowns — all numbers that top any 49ers’ individual receiving statistics.

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