IMHO: NFL’s Overtime Rules Remain an Utter Crock

  • Kansas City Chiefs fans react after officials ruled that New England did not touch the ball on a punt by Kansas City in the fourth quarter that the Chiefs thought was bobbled during the AFC Championship game on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS) John Sleezer

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes pauses during a news conference after the AFC Championship NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Jeff Roberson

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 1/21/2019 10:23:49 PM
Modified: 1/21/2019 10:26:17 PM

If I put my hockey team on the ice against yours in an overtime situation, I’m confident in the knowledge that I’ll have an equal shot at winning the game. That goes for basketball, too. 

If my baseball team is headed to extra innings, I know that I’ll get at-bats just like my foe will, with victory as the ultimate prize. If my soccer team has to play beyond 90 minutes, I’ll have another 30 to beat you — and maybe an annoying, but equitable, penalty-kick tiebreaker if we’re still at honors even.

There are no ties on the PGA Tour; whoever’s locked for the lead after 72 holes keeps playing until someone wins. It could be a first-to-seven-points tie-break or an endless succession of games, but tennis works out its deadlocks, too, with each party getting to serve the ball.

With all of that in mind, why can’t the powers that be in the National Football League get it through their calcified craniums that their overtime rules never have been fair?

Despite minimalist tweaks to the system, NFL overtime favors the winner of a coin toss far more than it favors full-team excellence. The latest example came in the New England Patriots’ enthralling 37-31 OT defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

That matchup had everything a fan could ask for. Great veteran quarterback vs. great young quarterback. Legacy vs. upstart. A comfortable lead eliminated. Costly errors. Brilliant plays. A 24-point fourth quarter that nearly ended the Chiefs’ five-decade Super Bowl drought.

And then came the one thing that decided the night: the flip of a coin. New England happened to win the coin toss and, about five minutes of game-clock time later, the game itself. Kansas City — and the entire football-watching world at the moment — was robbed of the opportunity of seeing Patrick Mahomes try to do to the Patriots what Tom Brady had just accomplished against the Chiefs.

Mahomes deserved that chance. All of football deserved to witness it.

A football offense can control anything and everything when it has possession of the pigskin. It can run. It can pass. It can speed up. It can slow down. It can overload one side of the line of scrimmage. It can shift in the backfield or send someone in motion. It dictates all of the terms. As well-prepared as a defense may be, all it can do is put bodies where it thinks the ball is headed, then tackle. Unless the offense makes a mistake, it never has possession of the ball.

And that’s where the NFL’s overtime procedures fail.

The league has adjusted its overtime rules in recent years, in a laughingly poor attempt to make them appear more equitable, failing in each instance. Allowing the loser of the toss an offensive possession if its defense allows no more than a field goal was a start, but it doesn’t go far enough. Shortening regular-season OTs from 15 minutes to 10 to curtail concussions? Seriously? I don’t see how shaving five minutes off the clock will make a lick of difference, but if you’re really that concerned about head injuries, let’s just have a field-goal kicking contest instead.

In an attempt to support the current system, the “defense wins championships” cliché is exactly that — a trite saying devoid of meaning or heft. Here’s another: “If they can’t stop them, they don’t deserve to win.”

Even the notion that a brain-numbing neutral-zone infraction on KC defensive end Dee Ford to negate a Chiefs interception and keep a late fourth-quarter New England touchdown drive alive misses the point. Ford may have goofed, but the contest still required extra time to resolve as a consequence of his penalty.

In hockey and basketball, it would have meant more time on the clock. In soccer, possibly penalty kicks. In golf, extra holes. In tennis, extra serves and volleys.

In the NFL, overtime disproportionately rides on the flick of a referee’s thumb and the rotation of a silver dollar.

The Patriots are deservedly returning to the Super Bowl because they played the game by overtime’s rules and won. That their opponents didn’t get the same chance again shows how much those rules need to change.

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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