Kyle Shanahan explains decision not to challenge DeVonta Smith catch in 49ers’ NFC title game loss
The NFC Championship Game got away from the San Francisco 49ers as quarterback injuries finally caught up with Kyle Shanahan’s club.
Perhaps the match might have unfolded differently had the Philadelphia Eagles not converted a fourth-and-3 deep shot of DeVonta Smith for 29 yards on the opening drive, leading to a touchdown.
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The initial shot of Smith’s leaping grab looked like a good catch. The wideout jumped to his feet, imploring the Philly offense to hurry to the line and get a play off quickly. They did, negating a chance for Shanahan to throw his challenge flag.
Shanahan said he didn’t throw a challenge because the 49ers never saw an angle that looked like Smith didn’t control it.
“The replay we saw didn’t definitively show that,” the coach said, via the official transcript. “We saw one up on the scoreboard. I wasn’t going to throw one anyways just to hope to take the chance. But they showed one up on the scoreboard that didn’t have all those angles you guys saw. That looked like a catch and we didn’t want to waste a timeout. Which we definitely would have if we didn’t see that. I heard they got a couple other angles and you guys ended up seeing later that it was not a catch.”
Only after the Eagles had run a play did FOX broadcast an angle that clearly showed Smith didn’t maintain possession going to the ground.
Smith’s immediate reaction was one indication he didn’t make the catch. However, it was also wise to get his teammates to the line before the Niners could see additional replays.
“I wish,” Shanahan said when asked if he had access to other angles. “But I mean there’s people, I mean I think the NFL can do that, if they can see it, they’re supposed to do it. But I mean, we didn’t see it. There’s a play clock. You have 40 seconds. They’re going to get it off. They got it off. I wasn’t going to throw it anyway. I was just hoping. But it looked like he caught it. And then they showed a replay up there. Which I was shocked they showed it. But it ended up looking like a catch on the replay too because you couldn’t see the other angles. So that’s why we didn’t. I was told at the end of the drive they saw a couple other angles and I was told that it was incomplete.”
Had Shanahan challenged, the Niners would have gotten the ball at their 35-yard line tied 0-0. Perhaps a butterfly effect would have changed the course of the game. Perhaps.
Instead, Brock Purdy was injured on a sack-fumble on the ensuing drive — a play Eagles coach Nick Sirianni did challenge — and the wheels eventually fell off for the 49ers in a 31-7 blowout loss.
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