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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Young defends 49ers’ OT decision in Super Bowl; Players unaware of rules

Feb 12, 2024 at 2:38 PM--

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A Kyle Shanahan-coached Super Bowl wouldn't be complete without some lingering controversy over his end-game decisions. The San Francisco 49ers' loss in Super Bowl 58 is no exception, with much talk focusing on Shanahan's choice to receive the football first in overtime.

Recent overtime rule changes now grant both teams possession of the football, regardless of the outcome of the initial possession. Some argue that Shanahan should have opted to kick to the Kansas City Chiefs' defense, allowing the 49ers to adjust their drive strategy based on the outcome.

During a Monday interview on the "Dan Patrick Show," Hall of Fame quarterback and Bay Area icon Steve Young voiced support for Shanahan's decision.

Young stated, "The idea that you're going to give it to [Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes] ... if you're going to start overtime and say, 'Hey, look, Patrick Mahomes, you take the ball,' for me, I would not want to do that. I would tell my coach, if I was on that sideline, and we had that choice, I'd say, 'Give me the freakin' football. Let's go do it.'"

Another aspect of the decision has yet to receive much attention. Both defenses appeared exhausted by the end of regulation. The 49ers receiving the football first not only gave their defense a chance to rest on the sideline but also deprived the Chiefs' defense of the same opportunity. The hope was that by the time Mahomes took the field, the 49ers' defense would be better equipped to stop him.

Of course, that didn't happen. Mahomes still did Mahomes things during the extra period of play, dissecting the 49ers' defense on the way to a game-winning touchdown.

"We were playing good defense for most of the game, and obviously it hurts when it comes down to defense and we don't get it done," defensive end Nick Bosa said after the loss.

Given the recent implementation of the rule change, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid acknowledged the need for more historical data to determine the ideal course of action and won't question the 49ers coach.

"I'm not sure there's a right answer necessarily," Reid said. "Ours ended up being the right one. That easily could have gone the other way. That's what we felt was the right thing to do. I'm never going to question Kyle because he's brilliant."

Another point of discussion revolves around the 49ers players' unfamiliarity with the playoff overtime rules. While the Chiefs regularly reviewed the process throughout the season and during the playoffs, the same level of preparation wasn't evident within the 49ers organization.

One Chiefs defender expressed bewilderment at the 49ers' decision to send out the offense at the start of overtime.

"They're crazy," defensive lineman Chris Jones criticized. "Because the overtime rules have changed where both teams get the ball, no matter who scores. Originally, you want to let the other team get the ball and stop or hold them to three so you know what you've got. Or if you stop them and they punt it, then all you have to do is kick three."

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead admitted to learning about the new playoff overtime rules just ahead of the overtime period, as they were displayed on the scoreboard for fans.

"I didn't even know about the new playoff overtime rules, so it was a surprise to me," Armstead said. "I didn't even really know what was going on in terms of that."

When asked whether the coaching staff had reviewed the overtime rules, Armstead responded, "I wasn't aware of it."

Veteran fullback Kyle Juszczyk echoed Armstead's sentiments, assuming the overtime rules mirrored those of the regular season.

"You know what? I didn't even realize that the playoff rules were different in overtime," Juszczyk admitted. "So I assume 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."

Juszczyk also acknowledged, "We hadn't talked about it, no."

Shanahan maintains that the 49ers did discuss their overtime strategy in case the situation arose. However, it remains unclear whether the players were involved or if efforts were made to inform them of the thought process.

"None of us have a ton of experience of it, but we went through all the analytics and talked with those guys, and we just thought it'd be better [to receive the ball]," Shanahan explained. "We wanted the ball third. If both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones who had the chance to go win and 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."

Ultimately, whether or not the players were fully aware of the precise rules, the team failed to execute on the field and halt Mahomes and the Chiefs. They'll have the entire offseason to reflect on their missed opportunities.

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