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Why 49ers players not knowing playoff OT rules does and doesn’t matter

Super Bowl LVIII was a rarity, becoming only the second Super Bowl to ever go to overtime. It was also the first playoff game to go to OT since the NFL altered the rules for the extra time. Both teams under the new rules get a possession regardless of how the first possession goes. The stadium scoreboard explained the new rules for the fans, but it turns out the 49ers players needed the explainer too.

While the lack of knowledge of the OT rules is certainly a preparatory oversight, it didn’t ultimately affect the outcome of Sunday’s game.

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead after the game told reporters he was unaware of the new rules.

“I didn’t even know about the new playoff overtime rule, so it was a surprise to me,” Armstead said via ESPN. “I didn’t even really know what was going on in terms of that.”

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was also unaware.

“You know what? I didn’t even realize the playoff rules were different in overtime,” Juszczyk said. “I assume you just want the ball to score a touchdown and win.”

There’s an obvious, glaring problem with this.

The NFL changed its rules for the most important games of the year and the 49ers as an organization didn’t take the time to go over it with its players. They didn’t discuss the strategy or ensure the players knew what was at stake with each OT possession.

That is not good and displays a lack of attention to detail that may serve as at least a partial explanation for head coach Kyle Shanahan’s continued shortcomings in the postseason, particularly when juxtaposed against what Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said about his team’s preparation for the rules.

“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.”

However, lack of awareness of the rule isn’t the reason the 49ers came up short in Sunday’s OT loss. They got the ball first and tried going down to score a touchdown. They came up short and settled for a field goal. Then they needed a stop and didn’t get one. It’s pretty cut and dry.

It would be a different story had Shanahan not known the rules. Had he taken the ball first because he thought he could win the game with a TD, there would be a major problem for San Francisco.

After the game Shanahan explained though that the club deemed it prudent to receive in OT in the event there was a third possession. That would set the 49ers up to win with a field goal.

The strategy for that can be debated, but there’s ultimately no good answer. In overtime, no matter what the rules were, the team needed a score and a stop. Even under the most recent old OT rules their field goal on the first possession wouldn’t have been enough to win it and they’d still have needed to keep the Chiefs out of the end zone.

Moving forward the 49ers should probably dedicate at least a little bit of offseason time to ensuring players know the rule changes. The players not knowing the playoff OT rules isn’t great from a big picture standpoint, but it’s hardly the reason they fell short in OT against Kansas City in the Super Bowl.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire