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Why 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan struggled with risky Christian McCaffrey decision

Nov 17, 2023 at 10:11 AM--

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George Kittle could have helped out his teammate, Christian McCaffrey, during the San Francisco 49ers' 34-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars this past Sunday. Early in the third quarter, the tight end hauled in a pass from quarterback Brock Purdy and then scampered into the end zone for the touchdown. With no defenders around him, Kittle took his time, walking in for the score.

McCaffrey ultimately did not score in the game, ending his quest to break the record for the most consecutive games (including playoffs) with at least one touchdown. Head coach Kyle Shanahan, in a lighthearted manner, jokingly blamed Kittle for McCaffrey falling short of the record.

"You know how easy it would have been for him to stop on the inch-yard line?" Shanahan said Thursday on Bay Area radio station KNBR.

The tight end admitted this week that he hasn't lost any sleep because of his decision.

"That's more you should be mad at [WR] Deebo [Samuel] or [FB Kyle Juszczyk] for that because [they scored] later in the game," Kittle stated with his typical smile on his face. "So that's on them, not on me. Christian has a lot of touchdowns, so he's going to get a lot more. It's fine."

Later in the game, with the 49ers holding a commanding 31-point lead, Shanahan faced a crucial decision regarding McCaffrey's potential return to the field for a shot at the record. While the coach might have kept McCaffrey sidelined for a single-game record like most rushing yards, the unique nature of this record influenced his thought process.

"This was a record that happens over 18 games, and he did it over 17 games, and I never would have put him back in there to go for like a yards thing or something like that," Shanahan shared. "But, man, when you got to do that over 18 games, for that long, that takes a long time to build up. It's only been done once.

"And I sat there and thought about the risk-reward the whole time, and I was actually counting in my head. I was estimating like, all right, he's had over 200 touches. He's gotten hurt one time this year, and it was when he wasn't touching the ball. So he's gone 200 times without getting hurt. If I give it to him four more times, what's the percentages of him getting hurt on one of those four plays versus the percentages of him and the rest of the team never talking to me again if I don't give him the opportunity."

The 49ers came close to getting McCaffrey the record. Playing with much of the second-team offense, the team drove down the field and almost got the running back into the end zone, falling just short of breaking the nearly 60-year-old record held by former Baltimore Colts running back Lenny Moore.

Shanahan acknowledged the necessity of taking a chance, stating, "And once I did kind of that math, I felt good about it. I had to roll the dice. I wish we scored, but I was glad that he got out healthy."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.

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