49ers’ bizarre OT coin flip decision comes back to bite them in Super Bowl 2024

LAS VEGAS — No one could make heads or tails of the 49ers’ decision after winning the overtime coin toss in Super Bowl LVIII.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan made the controversial decision Sunday to begin overtime on offense despite the new NFL playoff rules that make sure both teams get at least one possession.

Sure enough, after the 49ers kicked a tiebreaking field goal, the Chiefs answered with a walk-off touchdown to steal a 25-22 victory at Allegiant Stadium.

Shanahan explained that he was thinking several moves ahead after the winning coin toss, looking toward a potential third overtime possession when the game becomes sudden death.

“None of us have a ton of experience with it,” Shanahan said. “We went through all the analytics and talked to those guys. We decided it would be better getting the ball because if both teams matched and scored, we wanted to be the ones to have a chance to go win it.”

NFL regular-season overtime rules only allow both teams a possession if the first team does not score a touchdown, so coin-toss winners almost always choose to receive the kickoff for the chance to end the game.

Referee Bill Vinovich performs the coin toss before overtime as San Francisco 49ers' Fred Warner and Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes watch.
Referee Bill Vinovich performs the coin toss before overtime as San Francisco 49ers’ Fred Warner and Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes watch. REUTERS

But the overtime rules are closer to the college football model, where the reward for playing defense first is knowing exactly how many points your team needs on the second possession to tie or win the game.

“We got that field goal. We knew we had to hold them to at least a field goal,” Shanahan said. “If we did, we thought it was in our hands after that.”

Andy Reid said that the Chiefs’ plan was to kick off if they won the coin toss.

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“I’m not sure there’s a right answer,” Reid said. “I’m never going to question Kyle.”

Several 49ers admitted to not even being aware of the new overtime rules, which were put in place after an epic back-and-forth playoff game during the 2021 season, when the Bills’ Josh Allen threw a go-ahead touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and never touched the ball again.

Just like he broke the 49ers’ hearts Sunday, Mahomes broke the Bills’ hearts by driving for a field goal in regulation and a touchdown on the only possession of overtime.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan walks off the field after losing Super Bowl LVIII to the Kansas City Chiefs
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan walks off the field after losing Super Bowl 2024 to the Kansas City Chiefs. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

CBS analyst Tony Romo and several others on X, formerly Twitter, theorized live that the 49ers’ defense must have been tired after defending the length of the field against Mahomes in the two-minute drill at the end of regulation.

“I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rules,” defensive tackle Arik Armstead said. “It was a surprise to me. I didn’t even know what was going on with it. They put it on the scoreboard and everyone was like, ‘Even if we score, they get a chance.’ ”

The only other overtime game in Super Bowl history ended on the first possession, when Tom Brady engineered a 25-point second-half comeback for the Patriots against the Falcons to end the 2016 season.

Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons in that game.

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