Brandon Aiyuk

Shanahan sees 49ers as forever grateful to Aiyuk for highlight catch

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Brandon Aiyuk might have only caught three of his eight targets in the 49ers' 34-31 win over the Detroit Lions in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium, but Kyle Shanahan knows each reception made a huge impact on the game.

All three of Aiyuk's receptions resulted in a first down, and some would argue, including Aiyuk himself, that his most impressive catch should have been ruled a touchdown.

"I didn't think he was ever going to recover," Shanahan said via conference call. "It seemed like he was yelling at me the whole time to challenge it because he just knew that he scored, but I was told he didn't.

"That's why I didn't. I think they ended up touching him, but he ended up scoring three plays later."

Aiyuk's memorable catch was a 51-yard pass from Brock Purdy that glanced off of Detroit Lions cornerback Kindle Vildor's helmet. The ball went high into the air, but Aiyuk tracked it down and miraculously maintained possession as he landed on the grass.

It was an incredible acrobatic feat, but Shanahan gave his receiver even more credit for bouncing back from missed opportunities earlier in the game.

"When we were down in this game, and it seemed like they were running away with it early, Brock made an off-schedule throw, and [Aiyuk] almost came down with another low catch and missed it, and that was a big one," Shanahan said.

"For him to come back and completely redeem himself and even more, with one of the best catches I've ever seen, in the biggest moments, we will all be hugely grateful for our whole lives."

Aiyuk has had a stand-out season, and while the Arizona State product was snubbed in regard to Pro Bowl honors, the wideout deservedly received a second-team All-Pro nod. Shanahan believes that without the play of Aiyuk, the team might not be heading to Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII.

"[Aiyuk] made two huge plays on third down last week with two low throws," Shanahan said. "[We] probably wouldn't have been able to win without those two plays."

The 49ers will take the next two days off before returning to the practice field on Thursday in preparation for their week-long visit to Sin City to play in the NFL's biggest game of the year.

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