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Kyle Shanahan gives odd post-game explanation for receiving the ball to start OT: ‘We wanted the ball third’ | Sporting News

Kyle Shanahan has often talked about his strategy of deferring possession when winning the coin toss in regulation. Evidently, that logic does not extend to playoff overtime.

The 49ers went to overtime against the Chiefs in Super Bowl 58. San Francisco won the coin toss by calling tails, but opted to take the ball to start on offense. The decision back-fired. After a field goal by the 49ers to open overtime, the Chiefs marched down the field and scored a touchdown to win the game 25-22.

In regular-season overtime, this would make sense. Score a touchdown on the first possession, and the game is over. But in the Super Bowl? Score a touchdown, and the other team still gets a possession. Opting to receive the ball first certainly appears to have a bigger advantage during the regular season.

Instead, Shanahan explained his logic by saying the 49ers wanted to have the ball third in overtime. If both teams matched each other touchdown for touchdown or field goal for field goal, Shanahan wanted the 49ers to have the first crack at a sudden death score. 

“It’s just something we talked about with, you know none of us had a ton of experience with it, but we went through all the analytics and talked to those guys and we decided it would be better — we wanted the ball third,” Shanahan said. “If both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones to have a chance to go win. We got that field goal so we knew we had to hold them to at least a field goal and if we did then we thought it was in our hands after that.”

MORE: Super Bowl overtime rules

Shanahan was asked whether the tiredness of the defense, having just allowed a game-tying drive to end regulation, had anything to do with the decision. He said it was not, and again doubled down on wanting the ball third, if it came to that. The 49ers did not get the ball a third time in overtime.

Did 49ers make the wrong call in overtime?

The decision to take the ball to start put the Chiefs in a favorable position. The 49ers kicked a field goal to take a three-point lead. Then, from the Chiefs’ own 34, Kansas City faced a fourth-and-1. Had the Chiefs been faced with that decision to start overtime, they likely would have been forced to punt.

But because the Chiefs knew how many points they were chasing, they were put in a position where they knew they had to go for it on fourth down. On the flip side, facing a fourth-and-4 from the Chiefs’ 9, the 49ers would have gone for it rather than kick a field goal had they known they were down by a touchdown.

There’s still another flaw in Shanahan’s logic. In both college and the NFL, it has become more prominent for teams to go for 2 when scoring a touchdown to potentially end the game right then and there rather than give their opponents another possession. So had San Francisco scored a touchdown and the Chiefs matched, Kansas City might have just gone for 2 to end the game rather than kick the game-tying point-after leave it up to the defense to get another stop.

The Chiefs certainly appeared to know the best way to approach overtime. Defensive tackle Chris Jones called the 49ers “crazy” for taking the ball to start.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes reportedly told ESPN after the win that had Kansas City won the toss, it would have deferred so the team would have known how many points it was chasing, per The Athletic’s Chris Vannini.

“We changed the rules, we can execute them both ways,” Mahomes said, per Vannini. “I don’t know how they’re going to change it this time.”

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