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NFL Overtime Rule Changes pass by a comfortable margin by Lloyd Vance

Kickers, like the Redskins’ Justin Medlock, will no longer be able to win postseason overtime games via coin-toss winning first-possession field goals after the NFL owners recent vote 

At the 2010 NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, NFL owners approved changes to the existing overtime rules by a vote of 28-4 — the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals voted negatively.  Under the new rules, the team that loses the coin toss at the start of overtime will now get a chance to also score if the coin-toss winning team scores a field goal with their first possession. 

Right now the new overtime rules will only apply to the postseason. But everyone is expecting NFL owners at their next set of meetings (May 24-26, in Dallas) to discuss and possibly adopt the overtime changes for the upcoming 2010 regular season.

Here is a detailed look at the new postseason overtime rules

• Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.

• If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If [that team] scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after [both teams have a] possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.

• If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if [the overtime period’s] initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue until a score is made, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.

The current “Sudden Death” overtime rules, which have been around since 1974, have recently come under fire and you knew the owners were poised for change. In support of their proposal, the NFL had painted a statistical picture where the main reason for overtime rule changes was the increased accuracy of field goal kickers – made 81.3% of overall field goal attempts in ’09. 

After the NFL made the change in 1994 to move kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30-yard line, coin-toss winning teams tended to get better field position off kickoffs.  The better field position equated to shorter distances for kickers to get opportunities to end overtime games via kicking 50-yard or longer field goals.  Since 1994, kickers have better than a 50 percent accuracy level on field goals longer than 50 yards.

“We’ve had this discussion for a number of years,” NFL Competition co-chairman Rich McKay recently said on a pre-Annual Meeting conference call. “We feel this year’s proposal gave us the opportunity to a pretty good rule. Statistically we felt it needed to be changed. It wasn’t creating the fairest result as far as field goal accuracy field goal distance and drive starts.”  McKay also said one of the bigger selling points of the new overtime rule that they maintained the sudden death aspect of overtime.

But I believe the NFL is being “reactionary” – as usual — after two high-profile playoff games recently ended on the coin-toss-winning team’s first-possession.  And you know the “sticking” point in those two highly watched playoff games was that two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks never got an opportunity to step on the field for a comeback in overtime. 

In the 2008 postseason – Wildcard Round, the Indianapolis Colts lost 23-17 to the San Diego Chargers (won the coin toss) in overtime with the game-winning points coming on a Darren Sproles’ 22-yard touchdown as Colts QB Peyton Manning could do nothing but watch. 

An even brighter spotlight was shined on the subject in the 2009 playoffs when the New Orleans Saints earned a trip to Super Bowl XLIV by beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime via a 40-yard game-winning-field by little known kicker Garrett Hartley.  However as soon as the Saints started celebrating their first-ever NFC Championship – Thanks to Hartley — a lot of people only wanted to discuss was “Sudden Death” and giving both teams a chance.  One NFL fan emailed me saying “Honestly… How could the NFL not give Brett Favre an opportunity to answer a measly field goal, when a Super Bowl berth was on the line?”

My whole take on the past “Sudden Death” overtime system, is “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  I grew-up loving the white-knuckle nature of one score and done in NFL overtime games.  Quite frankly overtime game always kept me glued to the edge of my seat.  

One of my all-time favorites came in a 1988 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants at the Meadowlands.  When the Eagles were attempting an overtime game-winning field goal, it was blocked by Lawrence Taylor, only to have Eagles defensive end Clyde Simmons scoop-up the ball and run 15 yards for the winning touchdown in a 23-17 thriller.

No one around the league (players and coaches) was really “crying” over the “Sudden Death” rules and I believe it was mainly a minority group of fans and media who made the most noise.  Most players and coaches, that I talk to, do not mind the old overtime format and liked  the opportunity to fight it out in “One and Done” fashion.  “Old-Schoolers” believe in the motto, “Just have your defense stop the other team” and I totally agree with them.

However the NFL owners in their infinite wisdom – and their love for tinkering with the game — have decided that both teams deserve a chance.  So now we are stuck with new overtime rules for the 2010 postseason and possibly regular season.  And I can assure you that there is over a 60% chance that some kind of controversy will happen in 2010, after this new set of overtime rules affects a Big Game.  Just ask the Baltimore Ravens, who were “jobbed” by the “Brady Rule” — passed at the 2009 NFL Owner’s Meetings — in a 27-21 loss to the New England Patriots during Week 4 of the 2009 regular season. 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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