Why 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan’s reasoning for receiving in overtime was flawed
By Insidethe49|Published On: February 13th, 2024 at 11:02 AM|
The 49ers head coach provided an intriguing answer for why he chose to receive.
The San Francisco 49ers suffered a tough 25-22 overtime loss at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, marking the second time in the Kyle Shanahan era that the former lost to the latter on the final stage, going home empty.
It was the second year with the revised playoff overtime rules, but this year’s Super Bowl was the first game where they actually took place, as the 49ers and Chiefs saw themselves tied at 19 a piece at the end of regulation after the latter scored a last-second, game-tying field goal.
The 49ers ultimately won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball first, which I initially felt was a move to preserve the defense, who had looked gassed on the last defensive drive of regulation, and would need to trot back out there under poor circumstances.
After getting the ball first, San Francisco drove down into the red zone, but a key blocking miscue on 3rd & 4 at the Kansas City 9-yard line allowed Chiefs star defensive tackle Chris Jones to rush the passer untouched, leading to a broken play and causing the 49ers to settle for a field goal.
Needing a touchdown to win, the Chiefs drove down the field and got exactly that as Patrick Mahomes hit Mecole Hardman for a short touchdown, sealing the game for Kansas City, who repeated as back-to-back champions.
He wanted his team to have the third possession, which would allow the 49ers to win in a sudden-death format.
“This is something we talked about with, you know that none of us have a ton of experience of it, but we went through all the analytics and talked with those guys, and we thought it would be better; we just wanted the ball third. If both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones who had the chance to go in. We got the field goal, so we knew that 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.”
And that reasoning was flawed.
Now, in pointing out Shanahan’s response as an issue, I’m not advocating for receiving or deferring the coin toss, as there’s a legitimate argument for both sides, especially with how tired the 49ers defense looked at the end of regulation.
But, the primary reason that there was an issue with Shanahan’s explanation is that he had a pre-determined plan that he thought Andy Reid and the Chiefs would follow.
In pointing out the third possession, Shanahan believed that his team would score a touchdown, which the Chiefs would likely match, giving San Francisco the chance to score in sudden-death with a tie game.
However, there was no chance that Andy Reid was letting the game go to a third possession, which is characteristic of his aggressive personality.
Understanding that sudden-death idea, it was likely that the Chiefs were going to look to win the game with the ball in Patrick Mahomes’s hands.
If the 49ers didn’t score, the Chiefs would go for a field goal. If San Francisco got a field goal, then Kansas City would go for a touchdown, as they did.
But, in the case that the 49ers scored a touchdown, the Chiefs were going to go for two and look to win the game, rather than play the way that Shanahan imagined with his pre-determined decision.
In fact, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones confirmed the logic postgame, pointing out how his team had prepared for the new overtime rules and that they were going for two if San Francisco scored a touchdown.
“We talked through this for two weeks,” Jones said, via the Ringer’s Lindsay Jones. “How we was going to give the ball to the opponent; if they scored, we was going for two at the end of the game. We rehearsed it.”
Safety Justin Reid revealed to The Ringer that Kansas City had discussed the new overtime rules as far back as training camp, while several 49ers players acknowledged during the postgame interviews that they weren’t aware of the new rules.
Additionally, quarterback Patrick Mahomes confirmed that the Chiefs were going to defer had they won the toss in order to know what was needed from the offense ahead of time.
“Yeah we were going to kick if we got it. They let us know what they were going to do, so we can go for it on that fourth down,” Mahomes said after the game.
The day after the Super Bowl, Mahomes shared a similar sentiment to his defensive tackle, acknowledging that the Chiefs were certainly going for two, derailing Shanahan’s vision of getting a third possession.
“I don’t know if Coach Reid wants me telling everybody, but we would’ve went for two for sure,” he said on ESPN’s SportsCenter Monday.
Now, again, I think there was a legitimate argument to take the ball, as the 49ers did, given how their defense looked early and that the offense drove all the way into the red zone.
But, if they started with the ball, they absolutely had to go for a touchdown, which didn’t happen.
Overall, however, the entire idealogy of Shanahan’s overtime plan was flawed from the get-go because he thought the NFL’s best coach would think like him, rather than be his usual aggressive self.
And that’s a decision that Shanahan will have to think long and hard about over another tough offseason.