Head coach Kyle Shanahan blamed the players Monday for the 49ers’ recent pattern of blowing late-game leads.
“We need to close people out, and we need some closers to do that,” Shanahan said on a conference call. “We are getting opportunities, reps and experience, but the experience hasn’t paid off yet. We’ve got to find people who can get it done.”
The 49ers blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, who won the game 18-15. None of the 49ers’ best offensive players produced during the fourth quarter. None of them closed. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and tight end George Kittle each caught zero passes, and running back Matt Breida ran for five yards.
The 49ers also blew a seven-point fourth-quarter lead two weeks ago to the Green Bay packers. Again, the 49ers couldn’t close the deal. Goodwin and Kittle each caught zero passes in the fourth quarter, and Breida ran for 6 yards.
“In order to win an ugly game in the NFL,” Shanahan said, “you’ve got to be good at four-minute offense, and we weren’t there at the end.”
“Four-minute offense” means moving the ball while having a lead with fewer than four minutes left in a game. It means using up the clock. Killing time. Closing.
Shanahan continued: “We didn’t run the ball well enough when they knew we were trying to run it. And when we took our shots in the pass game to take advantage (of the opposing defense selling out to stop the run), we didn’t come down with it. Those are the ones you need to close someone out.”
Shanahan called a deep pass to Goodwin with 7:58 left in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Cardinals. The 49ers were winning by five points. Goodwin didn’t get open. Cornerback Patrick Peterson broke up the pass.
Two weeks before, Shanahan called a deep pass to Kittle with 4:01 left in the fourth quarter against the Packers. The 49ers were winning by seven points. Kittle didn’t get open, so quarterback C.J. Beathard scrambled and gained 1 yard.
“When people know you’re running it, they’re going to always bring more people than you block until you run the quarterback,” Shanahan explained. “That’s why you want to try to take a shot (downfield) some of those times because (opposing defenses) are extremely vulnerable in the pass game. After that, you’ve got to have hard-nosed running.”
Shanahan even had problems with hard-nosed running and finishing games before he came to the 49ers.
The Atlanta Falcons couldn’t hold a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter of the 2016 Super Bowl when he was their offensive coordinator. He needed to run the ball to take time off the clock and close the game. And the Falcons seemed equipped to close the game. They had the fifth-best rushing attack in the NFL during the regular season. But, during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, the Falcons ran for just 10 yards, scored zero points and lost by six to the New England Patriots in overtime.
This season, the 49ers have the sixth-best running game in the NFL. They average a whopping 5.3 yards per carry from the first quarter through the third quarter. They should be All-Star closers. But, during the fourth quarter, their rushing average plummets to 3.3 yards per carry. And they gained just 1.3 yards per carry in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Cardinals.