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For his OT decision, did Kyle Shanahan chose external criticism over internal scrutiny?

When the 49ers won the toss to start overtime, coach Kyle Shanahan had a decision to make.

Would he defer to the pre-baked assessment by the team's analytics staff to take the ball, or would he decide in the moment to choose to kick to the Chiefs?

On Sunday night, Shanahan cited the numbers-based conclusion that it was best to have the ball for the third possession of OT. On Tuesday, he supplemented that explanation by pointing to the fact that the defense was tired. He also said it had become a "field goal game." However, he just as easily could have said that, while he respects and values the contributions of the analytics staff, he decided not to give Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes his latest chance to do something legendary. Because we all know from experience that he can — and that he will.

In situations like this, it's important to consider the broader organizational dynamics. For Shanahan, the options were to go along with the predetermined assessments of analytics department, or to overrule their calculations. As to the former, Shanahan risked scrutiny from media and fans. As to the latter, he faced a full offseason of internal questions about why he didn't defer to the Ivy League-educated mathematicians.

Every team has a group of analytics employees. They're the smartest people in the building. (Just ask them.) And they often have the ear of ownership.

It's already hard enough for a head coach to stand on the sideline while others are whispering criticisms of him to the owner during a game. If Shanahan had defied the analytics recommendation as to the receive-or-kick question, he would have had to worry about the Ph.D's talking Sh.T to folks like Jed York in the suite during overtime, at the after party, on the plane home, and in the facility while Shanahan is otherwise focused on getting his team ready for 2025.

So while Shanahan made the final decision in the moment, he likely realized at some level that anything other than "we want the ball and we’re gonna score (and then we're gonna try to keep you from scoring but if you do and the game is tied we're gonna score again)" would have set himself up for a headache that would have lasted far longer than several news cycles with schmucks like me writing annoying headlines about his decision to set the table for the latest chapter in the Book of Mahomes.

Regardless, Shanahan should be laying the foundation to argue for the formula to be reconfigured to take into account that, for certain quarterbacks, it makes sense to make him go first in overtime. That list might consist of only one quarterback. For that one specific quarterback in that one specific game, the analytics are simple.

If you give him the ball second in overtime, you will regret it.