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THE MOJ: Lack of preparation may have cost the 49ers the Super Bowl

San Francisco’s vague thoughts on overtime rules and strategy showed a team not ready to win
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is on the hot seat following San Francisco’s 25-22 loss in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco 49ers photo

“You know what? I didn’t even realize the playoff rules were different in overtime. 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.” San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk after his team lost Super Bowl LVIII 25-22 in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs.

I was lucky enough to play for and coach with legendary UBC football coach Frank Smith for seven years.

During those seven seasons, each and every walk-through practice prior to game day we practiced that oddity in the Canadian game known as the kick out.

For those unfamiliar with it, the offense punts or kicks the ball into the end zone on the last play of the game hoping to gain a point to either tie or win the contest. The return team, not willing to concede the rouge, receives the punt or missed field goal attempt and punts the ball back out to the offense. Needless to say, the play can be a little crazy and chaotic with perhaps three or four exchanges taking place.

As I mentioned, we played out that scenario every practice prior to game day during my time there.

Do you know how many times that scenario presented itself in a game during my seven years at UBC?

Not once.

But we were prepared.

Which is more than I can say about the San Francisco 49ers and how they handled overtime in their 25-22 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is under fire for his decision to take the ball after winning the coin toss. It’s a great call during the regular season where scoring a touchdown on the first possession ends the game but a horrible decision in the playoffs – where both teams get a possession regardless if the first team scores.

It’s similar to the CFL and NCAA overtime rules, and in those instances, 99% of the time the team that wins the toss will kick the ball, play defence and then take the ball second.


Because you know what you are dealing with.

Will you need to score a touchdown or a field goal? Or perhaps - as in this case - you can even afford to punt the ball back to the opposition.

Simply put, when you win the toss, you kick the ball. It’s a universal rule to apparently everyone in football except Shanahan.

“This is something we talked about with, you know that none of us have a ton of experience of it but we went through all the analytics and talked with those guys and we just thought it would be better, we just wanted the ball third. If both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones who had the chance to go in. We got that field goal, so we 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,” Shanahan told the media afterwards.

Huh? That same logic would have applied if you kicked off to the Chiefs first.

Obviously Shanahan has never spent any time in a casino playing blackjack. If he had, he would have known there’s a reason why the dealer always goes last.

You know what you have to do and can act accordingly.

Had the 49ers kicked off to the Chiefs, do you think that Reid would have gone for it on fourth-and-one at his own 34-yard line?

Instead, the Chiefs knew what the parameters were when they received the ball. Score a touchdown meant winning the game. Kicking a field goal would extend it while a turnover would mean the end.

And by giving the Chiefs the ball second, you gave Chiefs all-world quarterback Patrick Mahomes four downs to make it happen.

But the more you scrutinize this situation, the more you realize just how ill-prepared the 49ers were and how prepared the Chiefs were.

The Chiefs gladly accepted Shanahan’s decision to take the ball.

“We would have kicked the ball off. We had already gone through all of that. We had it all mapped out,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told ESPN afterwards.

“We talked through this for two weeks. 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,” stated Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones.

“We’ve been going over that through since beginning of the year. We got a guy named Fraz (Chiefs statistical analysis coordinator Mike Frazier), who does a great job with keeping us updated on all the rules, all the rule changes every year. I think the Chiefs were the reason that they changed the overtime rules from the beginning when they only won in Buffalo. So just keeping us updated on all the rules. Friday, situational football, coach Reid really prides himself in that. I think we would have went on defense first just so we can know how much we got to score,” Chiefs receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling told The Athletic post-game.

This was in stark contrast to the 49ers as several San Francisco players had no clue about what awaited them after 60 minutes of play.

“I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rule. It was a surprise to me. I didn’t know what was going on, in terms of that. They put it on the score board and everyone was thinking, even if you score, they get a chance still,” said 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who added that he got up to speed on the rules by watching the display on the video scoreboard.

The fact that 49ers never even bothered to go over the scenario with their players tells you that Shanahan and his staff probably didn’t prepare for it that much either.

After all, why waste valuable time and resources on a scenario that has only occurred once in the previous 57 Super Bowls?

You do it for the same reason Frank Smith had us practice those punt outs every Friday – because it could happen.

In the end, Shanahan’s lack of preparation for this scenario – and the Chiefs preparedness for it – was probably the difference between winning and losing a championship.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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