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Armour: NFL Needs to Change its Overtime Rules

Armour: NFL Needs to Change its Overtime Rules
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph caught the winning touchdown over New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams in overtime. Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES – STAR TRIBUNE

By Nancy Armour |

Why not use one of those skills contests they do at the NFL scouting combine to break a tie? Or have each team designate a player for a speed round of rock, paper, scissors? Ooh, I know! Force offensive and defensive players to switch sides and see who can score.

Silly as all of these ideas are, the NFL’s current overtime format isn’t a whole lot better. About as fair, too.

For a second consecutive season, a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations is going home because of a coin flip. If Patrick Mahomes not being able to get his hands on the ball in overtime of last year’s AFC title game wasn’t enough to convince owners that the format needs to be changed, maybe seeing an aging Drew Brees rendered helpless will.

Games as riveting and rollicking as the Vikings-Saints contest on Sunday, or the Patriots-Chiefs matchup a year ago, should never be decided by what is essentially a crapshoot. The league’s best players shouldn’t be spectators when the game is on the line because of a half-baked rule.

“I think everybody wants a chance for guys to do what they do,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said last year. “I don’t really see the downside of having that.” 

Who could?

Finding a tiebreaking format that is fair to everyone and won’t add too much time to games is a challenge, and nobody in football has found the right answer. But a proposal by the Chiefs last spring came the closest.

Rather than ending the game if a touchdown is scored on the first drive of overtime, both teams would get one possession. If the game remained tied after the initial possessions, then sudden death would take effect.

Everybody gets a chance. Everybody wins. Well, not everybody. But the Chiefs proposal would maintain the excitement and urgency of sudden death while ensuring that everyone was given a fair shot.

Unlike the current system, which often leads to abrupt ends of what had been exciting games, and a feeling that something has been left unfulfilled. 

There wasn’t enough support for the Chiefs proposal, and it was tabled until this year. Commissioner Roger Goodell urged owners to consider changes at least for the playoffs, and seeing the 40-year-old Brees’ chances for another Super Bowl title dwindle might sway a few folks.

This is not meant as a shot at the Vikings. Or to take anything away from Kirk Cousins, who silenced the legion of critics who said he was incapable of winning a big game, first with a 43-yard strike to Adam Thielen and then a short fade to Kyle Rudolph for the game-winner.

Nor should it absolve Saints coach Sean Payton, and even Brees himself, for being too cautious in playing for overtime rather than the win.

But Minnesota is moving on largely because the Vikings are coin-flip wizards. Their biggest play Sunday afternoon came before overtime even started, when the team captains happened to guess correctly how the coin would fall.

Given there are only two options, this is no great feat or achievement. There is a 50-50 chance of being right.

Yet the lucky bounce gave the Vikings the ball, and Cousins took it from there. All Brees and the Saints offense could do was watch.

Those who have opposed changing the OT rules say teams have already had 60 minutes to win the game, and that a defense should be able to make a stop.

Yet a team that wins on a first-possession touchdown had those same 60 minutes and couldn’t win outright, either. And given how much the rules have tilted in recent years to benefit the offense, quarterbacks in particular, it’s a little simplistic to lay it all on a defense. 

Brees and the Saints had their chances to win the game Sunday. That they didn’t get one more is unfair to them, and bad for the game.  

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.


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