San Francisco 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk Photo: USATSI
By USA TODAY
The thrilling end to Sunday night’s Super Bowl sent fans around the country scrambling to understand the NFL’s new postseason overtime rules.
It turns out some San Francisco 49ers players were in the same boat.
After San Francisco’s 25-22 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, multiple 49ers players acknowledged to reporters that they hadn’t brushed up on the postseason overtime rules, which were most recently tweaked in 2022. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said the 49ers had not talked about it as a team prior to Sunday night.
“You know what, I didn’t even realize the playoff rules were different in overtime,” Juszczyk told reporters. “So I assumed you just want the ball because you score a touchdown and win. But I guess that’s not the case. So I don’t totally know the strategy there.”
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead said players saw the rules appear on the jumbotron at Allegiant Stadium, prompting some confusion about whether the game would automatically end with a score on the first possession.
“I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rule, so it was a surprise to me,” Armstead told reporters. “I didn’t even really know what was going on in terms of that.”
Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones told reporters his team had a different approach, both in terms of pregame communication about the new rules and their preferred strategy.
“We talked for two weeks about new overtime rules,” he said. “Give the ball to the opponent. If we score, we go for 2.”
It is exceedingly rare for the Super Bowl to reach overtime. In fact, it’s only happened twice.
The first time, the New England Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, the NFL was operating under its old overtime rules, which stated the game would end if the first team to possess the ball in overtime scored a touchdown. The NFL changed that rule in 2022 to ensure both teams have a chance to possess the ball; If the game is still tied after two possessions, the next team that scores is declared the winner.
The rule change has clear implications in terms of strategy. Under the old format, the NFL found that whichever team won the overtime coin toss had a substantial advantage, winning more than 80% of the time in playoff games from 2010 to 2021. Under the new format, there’s more nuance.
The 49ers won the coin toss Sunday night and opted to take the ball first in overtime, with coach Kyle Shanahan later explaining it was a calculated move by the coaching staff, despite confusion among at least some of his players.
“We went through all the analytics and talked to those guys,” Shanahan told reporters. “We wanted the ball third. If both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones with a chance to go win.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said he doesn’t think there’s a correct or incorrect way to approach overtime in the playoffs, and he’s not about to doubt Shanahan’s decision to receive the ball first.
“I’m not sure there’s a right answer, necessarily,” Reid said. “Ours ended up being the right one. But that easily could’ve gone the other way. That’s what we felt was the right thing to do.”
Contributing: Lorenzo Reyes and The Associated Press