The San Francisco 49ers lost in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII Sunday night. Much of the talk in the immediate aftermath of the game has centered around Kyle Shanahan's decision to receive the ball after winning the coin toss to start overtime. That's a no-brainer decision under the normal rules, which state that an overtime game will end if the first team to have the ball scores a touchdown. However, playoff overtime rules are different. The other team gets a chance on offense no matter what. By choosing to receive, the 49ers got the ball first, but were always going to have to give it back to Patrick Mahomes with the possibility that he would end the game and their season.
Of course, that's exactly what happened. San Francisco received the ball and marched down the field but got stopped on third down in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal. Mahomes and the Chiefs scored a touchdown a few minutes later and that was that. The second-guessing began in earnest. If the 49ers had kicked instead of received, Mahomes scoring a touchdown as soon as he got the ball would not have mattered. San Francisco would've had the chance to respond while playing four-down football for an entire possession. The Niners could have been the ones to end it by going for two after scoring. There are obviously a lot of ifs, ands, or buts involved in these hypotheticals but that's the way it goes after the Big Game.
It also meant reporters were asking the players what they thought about Shanahan's decision to receive, leading to several 49ers players revealing they had no clue what the playoff overtime rules were. Which stood out in strong contrast to Chiefs players, who said Andy Reid has been prepping them on the rule change since training camp. Per Lindsay Jones of The Ringer:
The 49ers did not do the same. Multiple San Francisco players said after the game that they were not aware that the overtime rules are different in the playoffs than they are in the regular season, and strategy discussions over how to handle the overtime period did not occur as a team. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead said he learned the details of the postseason rule when it was shown on the Allegiant Stadium jumbotron during a TV timeout after regulation. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said he assumed the 49ers asked to receive when they won the toss because that’s what you do in the regular season, when a touchdown wins the game. “I guess that’s not the case. I don’t really know the strategy,” Juszczyk said.
This is (somehow) not the first instance of NFL players openly admitting they didn't understand overtime rules but it is certainly the most egregious because it happened in the Super Bowl. Which is why Stephen A. Smith laid into the Niners for not knowing these facts about their job in the biggest moment, calling it embarrassing and a "negligence of duty," which doesn't sound like a real turn of phrase but he used it on television so here we are.
I dunno. It's a weird situation. Like, yes, they should know, but also football culture is such that people take pride in the minutia of everything they do each day. The players who answered the questions about OT rules are extraordinarily detail-oriented. The fact that their attention was not directed to these particular details speaks more to the coaching staff than the players because, well, that's their job, right? To direct the focus of the players to the areas that matter the most. And can you really blame the coaching staff for not having the players study the rules for an extremely unlikely possibility in which the rules don't actually change much about the on-field strategy?
The lack of preparation for this particular instance could be reflective of an overall lack of preparation from an organizational standpoint. The inverse is certainly true about Reid and the KC coaching staff's close attention to detail. But ultimately the outrage about the players not knowing exactly how OT works just seems performative more than anything.