Overtime rules for the NFL playoffs changed several years ago, but Super Bowl LVIII was the first playoff game where the new format went into effect. The basics of the new overtime rules are simple: Both teams receive the ball, regardless of whether or not one team scores a touchdown on the first possession.
The Kansas City Chiefs certainly knew what was going on. That wasn’t the case with the San Francisco 49ers. And that was the game: Chiefs 25, 49ers 22.
Here’s a look at the glaring difference in the way the two teams prepared for a potential overtime.
The 49ers didn’t know the new playoff rules
After the Chiefs’ overtime Super Bowl victory, San Francisco players admitted they were unaware of the new overtime rules – even though they had been in effect for two years.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. via The Ringer. “I don’t really know the strategy.”
Juszczyk assumed that a team that gets the ball first in overtime wins if it scores a touchdown, which was the rule introduced in 2010. Under these playoff overtime rules, the game would not end immediately if the team that gets the ball first scores a field goal on the first possession – but the game would end if the offense scores a touchdown or if the defense scores on the first possession of the ball A safety scored in extra time.
Arik Armstead of the 49ers also admitted that he didn’t know the new overtime rule of not knowing that the other team had possession of the ball, even if the team that won the coin toss – and chose to toss the ball – scored a touchdown. Those were the sudden death overtime rules before 2010.
If the 49ers players didn’t know about the new overtime rules, did Kyle Shanahan know? If Shanahan knew, how did he prepare for a Super Bowl that had the potential to go into overtime? That possibility skyrocketed after kicker Jake Moody blocked an extra point attempt with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter, resulting in a lead of just 3 points.
The 49ers decided to take the ball first in overtime, a decision made all the worse because at least some of Shanahan’s players didn’t know what the protocol was if the 49ers scored. Since both teams had possession of the ball in extra time, going first was not the optimal strategy.
No matter what the 49ers did, the Chiefs knew exactly what they needed when they got the ball. Yes, in case the 49ers didn’t know, the Chiefs got the ball in overtime. Of course, if Shanahan chose to get the ball first, he was unaware of what was needed or what the Chiefs could do.
“That’s something we talked about, you know, none of us have a lot of experience with it, but we went through all the analytics and talked to those guys and we just thought it would be better, we just wanted the ball on third down.” ” Shanahan said in a league transcript after the game. “If both teams were equally good and scored a goal, we wanted to be the ones who had the chance to get into the game.”
“We made that field goal, so we knew we had to limit them to at least one field goal. And if we could do that, we thought it was in our hands after that.”
The 49ers clearly showed a lack of awareness. With the Niners’ field goal, the Chiefs knew they needed a touchdown to win the Super Bowl. Even if the 49ers had scored a touchdown, they would have been under pressure to choose between shooting the extra point or attempting a two-point conversion.
In fact, the only way the 49ers would have benefited from the decision to get the ball first was by scoring a touchdown and then converting the two-point attempt. Something else? Advantage, Chiefs.
The Chiefs discussed playoff OT strategy with the analytics coordinator
Kansas City was certainly prepared for the new overtime rules, as head coach Andy Reid repeatedly discussed the rules with his team throughout the playoffs. He knew that the possibility of an extension was always on the table.
How did Reid know what to do if the Chiefs won the coin toss? Reid trusted Mike Frazier, who served as Reid’s statistical analysis coordinator for all 11 seasons in Kansas City. Frazier had the same role with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2003 to 2012 – including with Reid.
“That’s the value of Mike. He’s doing a great job of that,” Reid said in a league transcript. “There are two ways to deal with this. You can either initiate it or you can receive it. I’m not sure there’s necessarily a right answer. In the end our answer was the right one.”
“It could have easily gone the other way. That was the right thing to do in our opinion… It was just something we chose throughout college. We thought that was important.”
The Chiefs wanted the ball second down. The 49ers wanted the ball on third down (if that was possible).
Apparently the 49ers made a mistake when they failed to reach the end zone. With Patrick Mahomes on the receiving end, the 49ers should have pressured him to score a touchdown first (and Reid to decide whether to score two touchdowns afterward).
Of course, this would have been avoided if San Francisco had known the rules. Neither the players nor the head coach were aware of the situation.
And that was the crucial thing.