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Why 49ers starters remained in the game longer than expected vs. Steelers

Sep 13, 2023 at 2:05 PM--

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Kyle Shanahan can't believe what happened. The San Francisco 49ers head coach still has emotional scars from the regular-season opener two years ago against the Detroit Lions. The Niners had built a 41-17 fourth-quarter lead and felt the win was in hand.

Then, the Lions came storming back with two late scores.

San Francisco ended up escaping with a 41-33 win, but Shanahan could have done without the added excitement in the final minutes of what had looked like a blowout.

That game remains one of the reasons why the 49ers coach refuses to get too comfortable against an opponent, even with his team up big, as was the case on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. After San Francisco built up an impressive lead, several starters remained in the game.

"Trust me, we want guys out of there," Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday. "We want to go put them in bubble wrap and wait them for next week. But once you start to go there, bad things happen a lot."

Players like defensive end Nick Bosa were still in the game in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter with the Niners up by 23 points.

"You pull guys when you think the game's over, and you do that off of experience," Shanahan said. "And we didn't think the game's over when it's at that point. Now, at some time in that drive, because it took so long, we debated whether to take him out before that drive or not. We'd been in that situation before. We decided not to.

"We kept Bosa out just for a third down, but it ended up going longer, and then we don't want to pull him out in the middle of it, so we kept [him in] that drive. But that was the last drive of the game. We decided that before it just went long."

Shanahan was asked about the impact the Week 1 game in 2021 had on his decisions.

"That's huge," Shanahan responded. "... It was, I think, 41 to 17 with 1:58 left, and they had the ball with 17 seconds, 20 yards away, down seven points. So that's a lot more than that was, and that's a personal situation. But I see it happen a lot [in] a lot of places."

Regarding that Lions game, Shanahan added, "That was the biggest one. That was like, 'Never again,' because I took a lot of people out, and I still can't believe how that happened. I've had to go back and keep watching it because it doesn't sound believable, but it is. But to me in particular, I've seen things get out of hand and close, but nothing as scary as that Detroit one."

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