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There will be discussion all offseason about San Francisco’s choice to start the game with the ball first in overtime after their Super Bowl defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs. Following several 49ers players’ admission that they were unaware of the new overtime regulations, that scrutiny will be even more intense.

For a long while, a team’s score concluded overtime. Subsequently, the regulation was changed to allow both teams to have the ball, barring a touchdown by the first offensive team to score. In that scenario, the game would end on that touchdown, and in Super Bowl 51, New England defeated Atlanta 34-28.

However, the most recent rule modification required that even in the event that the first offensive team scores a touchdown, both teams can have the ball during postseason play. These days, college overtime formats are even more similar to NFL playoff overtime, with teams trading possessions. Additionally, teams in college frequently prefer to have the ball second because they can better assess their needs for the drive.

After driving for a field goal in overtime on Sunday, the 49ers were defeated 25–22 by Kansas City after Patrick Mahomes led the team 75 yards the opposite way to win the game. They could have gone for a touchdown there if they had realized that three points wouldn’t be sufficient.

This time, Kansas City had that advantage, which meant the Chiefs had no choice but to go for it on fourth-and-one from their own 34, down three. They converted and eventually reached the end zone on a three-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to Mecole Hardman.

“That’s something we talked about,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. “None of us have a ton of experience of it.”

However, some 49ers players said they were not aware of the rule. “I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rule, so it was a surprise to me,” San Francisco defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “I didn’t even really know what was going on in terms of that.”

Shanahan said he had talked with his analytics team before Sunday’s game about overtime scenarios. That discussion does not appear to have filtered through to at least some of his players.

“You know what? I didn’t even realize the playoff rules were different in overtime,” fullback and Harvard graduate Kyle Juszczyk said. “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.”

In contrast, Kansas City players said they knew about the new regulations.

“We talked for two weeks about new overtime rules,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “Give the ball to the opponent. If we score, we go for [a two-point conversion].”

Safety Justin Reid said the Chiefs had conversations about the rule change dating back to training camp. “We’ve talked about it all year,” Reid said. “We talked about it in training camp about how the rules were different in regular season versus the playoffs. Every week of the playoffs we talked about the overtime rule.”

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid admitted that even with planning and knowledge of the rules, it’s not clear what the right tactic is to follow.

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