Much has been made about the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to receive the ball in overtime. With the new playoff rules, each team gets an opportunity to possess the ball. Knowing that some figure it’s wise to defer.
In the flow of the game, the 49ers’ defense had just been on the field for 11 plays, and it looked like they needed an IV more than another drive. Plus, they had lost a pair of starters in their secondary.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said the decision to receive the ball was decided well before the final drive of the game: “We decided that before before Greenlaw tore his Achilles.”
Furthermore, we’re talking about the best unit in all of football — the 49ers offense — putting pressure on the Chiefs to score. San Francisco scored but left the door open for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to do what they always do — snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Shanahan said he never considered going for it on fourth down: “No, we never thought about it there fourth and four. I mean, even if we do go and score, they still can go down and match it, and so not there wasn’t a thought there.”
Kick a field goal and get a stop. Lost in the decision to receive the ball is the 49ers giving up a 4th & 1, seven yards on 2nd & 13, a 3rd &6 completion for a first down, and 19 yards on 3rd & 19.
Shanahan wanted to be the team who had the ball third, and that’s why he took the ball first:
“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 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 the field goal, so we knew that 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.”
There’s logic and thought put into the decision. It makes sense why you’d take the ball first. The one problem is you better score a touchdown against Patrick Mahomes. The 49ers didn’t, and because of that, there will be endless scrutiny. It’s easy to point the finger in hindsight, but execution on both sides of the ball in overtime failed the Niners, not the decision to receive the ball first.
The offense had 2nd & 4 at the Chiefs 9-yard line. I’ve yet to hear anybody bring that up when talking about receiving the ball. A bust in pass protection on 3rd down is the reason they didn’t score a touchdown. You can’t ignore the offense moving the ball into the low red zone and still criticize Shanahan’s decision to receive.