LAS VEGAS, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Several San Francisco 49ers players admitted that they didn’t know the rules for overtime in the NFL playoffs until they were faced with it in their Super Bowl LVIII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The admissions came after the game Sunday when players met with reporters outside Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. The NFL changed its playoff overtime rules in 2022.
Previously, the playoff overtime rules were the same as the regular season. According to those rules, if the first team to possess the ball scores a touchdown, they win the game. As of 2022, in the playoffs, each team gets at least one possession, even if the first possession results in an offensive touchdown.
The confusion proved pivotal as the 49ers elected to receive the ball first in overtime. They went on to kick a field goal. The Chiefs then won the game by scoring a touchdown on the next possession. Had the 49ers elected to receive, and even if the Chiefs scored, they may have gone for a fourth-down conversion and extended the contest or won the game outright.
“You know what? I didn’t even realize the playoff rules were different in overtime,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk told reporters. “I assumed you just want the ball to score a touchdown and win.
“But I guess that’s not the case. I don’t totally know the strategy there.”
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said coaches discussed the analytic strategy of taking the ball first and “thought it would be better.” He also said they made the decision hoping to get the ball a second time in overtime.
Juszczyk said the 49ers didn’t review the rules before the session. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead expressed similar sentiment, saying he wasn’t aware of the rules until the NFL posted them on a scoreboard. He also intimated that his teammates were surprised to read the rules when they were posted at Allegiant Stadium.
“I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rule,” Armstead said. “It was a surprise to me. I didn’t know what was going on, in terms of that. They put it on the scoreboard and everyone was thinking, even if you score, they get a chance still.”
Shanahan said his players were hurting after the loss, but he was proud of their performances during the 2023-24 campaign. The 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl twice over the last five seasons under Shanahan, losing each time to the Chiefs after holding fourth-quarter leads.
“Obviously, we’re hurting, our team’s hurting, but that’s how it goes when you put yourself out there,” Shanahan said. “I’m real proud of our guys, no regrets with our team.
“I thought our guys played so hard. Not everything was perfect by any means, but if I’m going to lose with a group of guys, I’d do it with those guys any time and we’ll get over this and come back next year ready to go.”
Prior to Sunday, the 49ers had never played overtime in a postseason game during Shanahan’s tenure. Conversely, the Chiefs entered Sunday with three overtime playoff games under coach Andy Reid, but none since the 2022 rule change.
Chiefs players said they were recently coached on the current overtime rules. Defensive tackle Chris Jones called the 49ers “crazy” for opting to take the ball first. Linebacker Nick Bolton called the 49ers’ decision “a little disrespectful” to the Chiefs defense.
“They’re crazy,” Jones said. “They’re crazy because the overtime rules have changed to where both teams get the ball, no matter who scores. So, originally, you want to let the other team get the ball, stop them and holding the three, so you know what you got. Or if you stop them, and they punt it, then all you have to do is kick for three [points].”
Safety Justin Reid said the Chiefs constantly reviewed the overtime rules. He also mentioned the coach Mike Frazier, the Chiefs’ statistical analysis coordinator.
“We talked about it all year,” Reid said. “We talked about it in training camp. about how the rules were different in the regular season versus the playoffs. Every week in the playoffs, we talked about the overtime rules.
“We knew what our game plan was, had we won the coin toss, or whether he’d wanted to defer or not, and what our plan was from there.”
The safety did not say what the Chiefs would have done had they won the coin toss to start overtime, but said he thinks there is an advantage to getting the ball second.