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  • Writer's pictureJG .


San Francisco 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan has been taking a lot of heat over the last two days because of his decision to take the ball to start the overtime period in the Super Bowl. Many believe that he should have kicked off and played defense. Shanahan’s rationale was that if both teams matched scores on their mandatory first possessions, then the 49ers would be getting the ball, with the distinct advantage of needing simply to kick a field goal to win the game. That is precisely the type of advantage that the NFL tried to eliminate when they changed the sudden death overtime rules a few years ago. There is a definite advantage in having the ball in sudden death, and that third possession would have given the 49ers the ball in “sudden death”.


Another important factor in Shanahan’s decision was that the 49ers’ defense just defended an 11-play 2-minute drive at the end of regulation, so it would have been a definite advantage to the Chiefs’ offense to put an already tired 49ers’ defense back on the field without ample rest to defend the Chiefs first drive in overtime while at the same time, it would be giving the Chiefs’ defense extra rest before they had to defend the 49ers’ offense.


Some of the Chiefs players said that they practiced the overtime scenarios during the week leading up to the game, and their strategy if they won the coin toss would have been to kickoff and play defense first, and if they gave up a touchdown, their offense would drive down the field with their possession, score a touchdown, and attempt to win the game by going for two. Reid would have chosen to go for the two-point conversion, thus deciding the game on that one play, a 50-50 shot because giving the 49ers that third possession in overtime would put his team at such a distinct disadvantage. Reid’s thought process of settling the game right then, validates Shanahan’s decision to take the ball first.


As it played out, the 49ers were not able to score a touchdown on their first drive, settling for a field goal which opened the door for the Chiefs. The game was lost by the 49ers inability to score a touchdown in the Red Zone on their one possession in overtime. The Chiefs, subsequentially, drove down the field on their one overtime possession and scored the game winning touchdown.


If the decision to kickoff and play defense first is such an overwhelming advantage for a team that wins the coin toss that we can say that Shanahan decision not to kickoff, cost the 49ers the game, then doesn’t that call into question the existing overtime rules. The NFL changed the playoff overtime rules to what they are now, because they didn’t want to give one team a distinct advantage simply because they won the coin toss. But if we are saying there is a big advantage to winning the toss and choosing to kick-off, then shouldn’t the league revisit these new rules, because they were put in the place explicitly to make these coin toss decisions neutral but according to the NFL talking heads’ hot takes, these decisions are not neutral; they are determinative.


We all know that if Shanahan decided to kick off to start overtime, and both teams matched scores, and then Mahomes drove the Chiefs down to kick the game-winning field goal or the 49ers did not convert the 2-point play, the same people who are claiming that Shanahan made a mistake by taking the ball, would be saying that he made a mistake by not taking the ball. “How can you give Patrick Mahomes 2 possessions?” They would say. Or “how can you put the ball in Mahomes hands in sudden death overtime?” The extent of their analytical study of the game is which decisions worked and which decisions didn’t. That’s  how they determine which in-game decisions or play calls are right and which ones are wrong. Which is another way of saying they have no critical or analytical thinking. My six-year-old daughter can make football judgments that way. Did the decision work out? If it did, it was the right decision, if it didn’t, then it was the wrong decision.


This decision was neutral. It is 6 of one or half dozen of the other. The game was boiled down to its essence. Your offense is expected to score, and your defense is expected to get a stop. That’s it. That’s every series of every game. Bottom line is that both teams had one possession in overtime and the Chiefs scored a touchdown and the 49ers didn’t. That’s it. That was the difference in the game. Regardless of whether you got the ball first or second in overtime, if one team scores a touchdown and the other one doesn’t, then the game is over. There is an old saying, ‘successful people don’t always make the right decisions, they simply make their decisions right.’




Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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