Kyle Shanahan

Shanahan explains how wild stat changed 49ers' first-half strategy 

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  • Programming note: Watch Greg Papa's full interview with Kyle Shanahan on "49ers Game Plan," airing at 9:30 p.m. PT Friday on NBC Sports Bay Area

The 49ers looked like a completely different team coming out of their bye week, delivering an emphatic 34-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that sent a resounding message to the rest of the NFL that this San Francisco squad still is among the league's elite teams.

One of the ways the 49ers got back to their winning roots was by dictating the game flow to create multiple scoring chances on both sides of the halftime break. During an interview with Greg Papa on NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan," Kyle Shanahan detailed how this creates a massive momentum swing that is crucial to the outcome of any given game.

"We ended with one more possession than them in the game; I think we had nine [and] I think they had eight," Shanahan said. "It's usually that way or dead even. That happened because we scored with no time left in the second quarter, then right when we got back, we got the touchdown. It's a 7-3 game with four minutes in the second quarter, and you go on a four-minute [drive], you get to kill that clock, you kick a field goal, three of them to finish the second quarter.

"We take about 20 minutes off, come back out, and their offense hasn't touched the field for about an hour now. And last time they were out there, they were down four, now they're down 10, so it's a completely different feeling … It's a huge difference. They're going in there thinking it's a tight game at halftime, then when you get the ball back next time, it's two scores. When you do that, usually good things happen."

The 49ers head coach then revealed this strategy is a calculated formula backed by decades of data pointing to a massive spike in winning percentage for teams that hold the ball to end the first half.

"It's one I've heard for a long time, used to always hear it as a coordinator, never really followed it, started doing it our third year here," Shanahan told Papa. "There's a huge stat over the last 40 years that the team who finishes with the ball at the end of the second quarter or if they score at the end of the second quarter, their winning percentage in that game over these last 30 years just right below turnovers. I think blocked punts is bigger. So it's one of the top stats in the league for winning. It doesn't completely make sense. That's why I ignored it for so long."

Shanahan also detailed that while scoring before the half is the ideal outcome, simply keeping the ball away from your opponent still yields incredible results for the team that can register the second quarter's final possession.

"As long as they don't get an opportunity to do it," Shanahan explained. "That clock runs out. If you score, obviously much better, and that percentage goes up. But just finishing with the football, that stat is like that. I had the same facial expression as you for a while. We spent a lot of time looking into it, and it was all accurate. 2019 was the first year I really tried it. I thought our defense was going to be pretty unbelievable that year, and we were going to take that in and commit to it. If you watch how that year went, it went that way the whole year. We were so successful with it, the stats were even better than what I imagined, and we've always stuck with that."

It's easy to see why Shanahan quickly bought into this strategy, as the 49ers boasted an eye-popping 10-2 record in games where they recorded the final possession of the first half during the 2019 NFL season. Their only two losses in such games came on the road against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and the heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

The 49ers have held the final possession of the first half in eight of their nine games so far during the 2023 season, recording a 5-3 record in those contests.

With the mounting data supporting the high success rate of this strategy, don't expect Shanahan to shy away from deploying it anytime soon.

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