SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In heading back to the Super Bowl for the first time as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Kyle Shanahan knows he will get plenty of questions about what happened the last time he was coaching in the biggest game of the year.
But the memories and lessons Shanahan has from that game might not be the ones that most expect. Instead of concepts like "just run the ball," Shanahan will lead the Niners to Miami to play in Super Bowl LIV thinking more about "no lead is ever safe" and "best practices in backpack protection."
Shanahan, of course, was the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator for Super Bowl LI against the New England Patriots. That was the game the Falcons led 28-3 entering the fourth quarter but eventually lost 34-28 in overtime.
Afterward, Shanahan took plenty of criticism for his late-game playcalling. On Monday, he was asked how often he still thinks about that game.
"Not much at all anymore, to tell you the truth," Shanahan said. "You do it every second in the days after; they were real tough. Losing the Super Bowl is extremely tough for everybody, especially when you have a 28-3 lead going into the fourth.
"But the way it came down on me personally, I didn't react to that the way people would expect because there were definitely parts of that Super Bowl I would love to have back and I was very hard on myself. But the whole narrative of 'if I just would have run it, we would have won,' I know that wasn't the case. I know what went into that game and all the stuff that happened, so that stuff didn't bother me. You've got to deal with that and listen to other people, but it was nice to be able to move on and move out here and just keep working. I'm glad I'm going to get the chance to go back."
Although the criticism didn't faze him, Shanahan does acknowledge there are some things he would have liked to do over.
Specifically, the one call that still bothers Shanahan came at New England's 23 with just under four minutes to go and Atlanta leading 28-20. Facing second-and-11, Shanahan thought back to a late third-quarter drive in which the Falcons had a second-and-1 at New England's 32 and the run play he called was stuffed for a 1-yard loss and Atlanta was flagged for holding. That sequence forced the Falcons to throw on third down, quarterback Matt Ryan took a sack and they were knocked out of field goal range.
Determined to do better the second time, Shanahan called for a pass, but Patriots defensive lineman Trey Flowers dropped Ryan for a sack and a 12-yard loss. The next play was another holding penalty and the Falcons had to punt again.
"That put us way back and (we) had to throw again to get back into it and we missed it," Shanahan said. "But yeah, I wish I didn't call that play on second-and-11 that led to that sack."
That isn't to say Shanahan didn't take any other lessons from his previous trip to the Super Bowl. If nothing else, that experience only reinforced to him the importance of keeping his foot on the gas, which is why he actually called a couple of passes for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win against Green Bay to ensure the Packers didn't get a chance to claw back into the game.
"That's why, I promise you when we're way up in the fourth quarter on Green Bay and stuff, I know what 28 minus 3 is and I know a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter isn't enough," Shanahan said. "So, when we have a 14-point lead with eight minutes to go versus Green Bay, I can promise you that I think I feel from experience like the game is tied and that we don't have a two-score lead.
"I think that's the stuff that helps you. Sometimes I think people can tend to relax. I won't say that I ever relaxed in that Super Bowl, especially with Tom Brady having that ball, but that's something that keeps you humble in every single moment until the game is over."
Off the field, Shanahan even walked away from that trip with a crash course on backpack protection. At Super Bowl media night, Shanahan's backpack went missing.
Inside, Shanahan had what he estimates to be about 48 Super Bowl tickets and "a lot" of cash from those who had given him money for those tickets. His iPad, which had the Falcons' game plan on it, was also inside, but he wasn't as concerned about that knowing that everything on it was protected by passcodes.
"I had almost a panic attack," Shanahan said. "It was gone for about an hour and a half. The whole team left me. The Patriots came in. I was walking around there looking for my backpack, running into more media people and still doing interviews past my deal and I was trying not to come off as a jerk blowing them off. I was panicked trying to find my backpack."
Shanahan spent about 90 minutes looking for the backpack before realizing that Art Spander, a longtime Bay Area sportswriter, had left his own backpack behind. After checking to see who it belonged to, Shanahan was able to track down Spander and exchange the backpacks.
"He had it and they tried to take it off of him and he wouldn't give it to me at first until I showed him it was mine," Shanahan said, laughing. "I forgave him fast but I was stressed for a while."