We got to see the NFL's new playoff overtime rules in action Sunday, when the San Francisco 49ers failed to win the 2024 Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs after Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan chose to take the ball first in overtime. San Francisco's first (and only) overtime possession resulted in a field goal, and then the Chiefs scored the winning touchdown.
It was the first time a playoff game had gone into overtime since the NFL adopted new rules in 2022, which give both teams a chance to possess the ball. Prior to that, the first team to score a touchdown in overtime won the game.
Even though the new rules have been around for two seasons, some 49ers players were still living in 2021. After their 25-22 loss, several told Lindsay Jones of The Ringer that they didn't know there were new overtime rules specifically for the playoffs.
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.
Shanahan knew the strategy, but it hadn't filtered down to all the players. The Chiefs, on the other hand, had been running Super Bowl overtime drills since training camp and spent significant time over the past few weeks discussing the strategy.
The Chiefs’ overtime plan worked out exactly how they had hoped—and it wasn’t by accident. Kansas City safety Justin Reid told The Ringer that the Chiefs had first discussed the new overtime rules as far back as training camp. Defensive lineman Chris Jones told me players were prepared for what to expect if the Super Bowl went to overtime.
“We talked through this for two weeks,” Jones said. “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.”
Given that several Niners players admitted they didn't know the OT rules, the last five or 10 minutes of the game could've been wildly different. If San Francisco had scored a TD on its first possession instead of a field goal, there likely would've been several players celebrating on the sideline like they'd just won the Super Bowl, when they in fact still had to give the ball to the Chiefs.
At least with the way it turned out, the Niners had to deal only with losing the Super Bowl, instead of losing the Super Bowl and also embarrassing themselves by not knowing the rules of the game they play for a living. Every storm cloud has a silver lining, right?