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49ers’ Super Bowl OT approach questioned: ‘We hadn’t talked about it’

The 49ers’ players were caught off guard by the NFL’s new overtime rules Sunday.

The league changes things up in 2022, guaranteeing both teams would get an offensive possession during playoff games before it became sudden death. Super Bowl 58 at Allegiant Stadium was the first time those rules were put into practice.

“I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rule, so it was a surprise to me,” San Francisco defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “I didn’t even really know what was going on in terms of that.”

Armstead learned of the changes when they displayed on Allegiant Stadium’s scoreboard before overtime Sunday. The Chiefs, however, were on top of it.

Their plan all along was to kick off if they won the overtime coin toss. They lost, but things still worked out. The 49ers chose to receive the ball and kicked a field goal. The Chiefs responded with a touchdown that gave them a 25-22 victory and their third championship in five years.

“We would have kicked the ball off,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said. “The officials, actually, are on top of it right away. There were still a couple seconds on the clock and we had the extra officials on the sideline asking me what we would do, and I said we’ll kick off.”

San Francisco’s decision to start on offense led to plenty of second guessing.

The new playoff overtime rules state both teams are guaranteed an offensive possession. That’s different than the regular season, where the team that receives the ball can end things with an opening-drive touchdown.

That means, barring a Chiefs defensive touchdown, quarterback Patrick Mahomes was going to see the field again regardless of what the 49ers did on their first overtime drive.

Multiple San Francisco players said they were unaware of that change.

“You know what? I didn’t even realize the playoff rules were different in overtime,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “I assume you just want the ball to score a touchdown and win. I guess that’s not the case. I don’t totally know the strategy there. We hadn’t talked about it, no.”

Things were different on the Chiefs’ sideline. They had been preparing for this situation since training camp.

Kansas City wanted the ball second because it wanted to know what it would take to win the game. A San Francisco punt would mean the Chiefs just needed a field goal. A 49ers field goal would mean Kansas City needed a touchdown, which it got.

Even a San Francisco touchdown could have given the Chiefs the opportunity to go for the win. If the 49ers elected to kick an extra point, Kansas City could have attempted a 2-point conversion to end the game.

“Mike Frazier, our analytics chief, he does all the work on it,” Reid said. “It can go either way, but the one thing (kicking off) does, is it gives you the opportunity to see what you’ve got to do. They came down and scored three points, you’ve either got to score three or get a touchdown.”

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan did his own analytical study and decided the best option was to receive first. That would have put the 49ers in position to win with any type of score if they got a second offensive possession.

That didn’t happen, thanks to Mahomes. Shanahan will now have to live with the consequences of his choice.

“It’s just something we talked about,” Shanahan said. “None of us have a ton of experience with it. But we went through all the analytics and talked to those guys. We just thought it would be better. We wanted the ball third. If both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones who had the chance to go win. Got that field goal, so 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.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.