The Kansas City Chiefs won another Super Bowl Sunday night, and Patrick Mahomes nabbed a third MVP trophy in the process after rallying his team from a 10-0 deficit for a 25-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime.
After last night's game was over, some players on the losing side said they were unaware that the overtime rules for playoff games differed from the regular season overtime rules. Meanwhile, those on the winning side said they covered the changes at length in preparation for the game.
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead said, "It was a surprise to me..... They put it on the scoreboard and everyone was thinking, even if you score, they get a chance still?
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk admitted, "I didn't even realize that the playoff rules were different in overtime. I just assumed you won the ball, you score a touchdown and you win."
Surely, those players on the 49ers weren't alone in their lack of knowledge about the special overtime rules. It's doubtful that more than a small percentage of fans had any knowledge of the difference.
Overtime rules have changed dramatically since the NFL added an overtime period to regular season games in 1974.
In 2010, the league installed a modified sudden-death overtime system to help determine a winner in the postseason. Two seasons later, the league expanded those rules to cover all NFL games. Those rules gave both teams the opportunity to possess the ball at least once in overtime. Although, during the regular season, if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession, they win.
In 2017, NFL clubs approved shortening overtime in the regular season to 10 minutes from 15. The rule change was aimed at improving player safety.
In 2022, NFL clubs approved a rule that allows both teams to possess the ball in overtime in the postseason.
Unlike regular season games, postseason games cannot end in a tie, so the overtime rules change slightly for the playoffs.
In essence, overtime in a playoff game is an entire new game.
Last night, San Francisco won the overtime coin toss and elected to receive, which would be appropriate if you thought you could win the game by scoring a touchdown, as in the case in the regular season. But given that both teams get a crack at the ball on offense, regardless if the first team scores a field goal or a touchdown, the proper move would have been to choose to be on defense first.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan refuted what some his players were saying. "None of us have a ton of experience with it, but we went through the analytics and talked to those guys and thought it would be better (to get the ball first)" Shanahan said. "We wanted the ball third." In other words, Shanahan's thinking was that, if both teams scored a field goal, or both teams scored a TD, he'd have the next-best moment to capitalize.
Shanahan added, "We got that field goal, so we knew we had to hold them at least to a field goal and if we did we felt it was in our hands after that."
As we now know, the 49ers wound up kicking a 27-yard field goal for a 22-19 lead with 7:22 to play in the first quarter of extra time, only to have the Chiefs answer with a game-winning 3-yard roll-out pass to right to Mecole Hardman in the endzone with 3 seconds remaining. Had Kansas City not scored on that play and the clock ran out, no sweat. The game would have simply moved to the second quarter with KC still in scoring position.