NFL Nation: overtime rules

NFC West can shrug off OT proposal

March, 26, 2012
The Arizona Cardinals lived dangerously in 2011, improbably posting a 4-0 record in overtime games.

Turns out the margins for error in those games wasn't all that small, at least by overtime standards.

Postseason rules giving both teams at least one overtime possession in the absence of a touchdown would not have affected outcomes for those games or any other involving an NFC West team last season.

NFL owners, who rarely need overtime to wrap up their annual meetings, are expected to adopt those overtime rules for the regular season beginning in 2012. They'll vote on the measure this week.

A quick look at how the postseason rules would have (or did) apply to NFC West overtime games last season:

A quick look back at them:

Week 2

Score: Cowboys 27, 49ers 24

Teams possessing ball in OT: both

Rule impact: none.

Note: The Cowboys kicked the winning field goal on first-and-goal from the 1 following a 77-yard pass completion. The 49ers possessed the ball first in OT and punted on fourth-and-11.

Week 9

Score: Cardinals 19, Rams 13

Teams possessing ball in OT: both

Rule impact: none

Note: The Rams punted after taking possession to open overtime. Patrick Peterson returned that punt 99 yards for the winning touchdown.

Week 13

Score: Cardinals 19, Cowboys 13

Teams possessing ball in OT: One

Rule impact: none

Note: LaRod Stephens-Howling's 52-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown punctuated the Cardinals' victory. The new rules would not have allowed a possession for Dallas because Arizona scored a touchdown.

Week 15

Score: Cardinals 20, Browns 17

Teams possessing ball in OT: both

Rule impact: none

Note: The Browns possessed the ball first in OT. The Cardinals took over and drove 36 yards to the winning 22-yard field goal.

Week 17

Score: Cardinals 23, Seahawks 20

Teams possessing ball in OT: both

Rule impact: none

Note: The Seahawks possessed the ball first in OT. Jay Feely's winning 28-yard field goal ended a 13-play, 71-yard drive.

Week 20

Score: Giants 20, 49ers 17

Teams possessing ball in OT: both

Rule impact: none

Note: The 49ers' three-and-out possession to begin OT gave them a chance. Kyle Williams' fateful fumble derailed what would have been a second chance. The Giants possessed the ball three times before scoring the winning field goal.
A quick look at what the 2010 NFL Rule Book says, verbatim, about overtime for postseason games:

Rule 16, Article 4

For postseason games, following a coin flip (Article 2 above) and an intermission of no more than three minutes after the end of the regular game, the following shall apply:
  • (a) Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff (Team B) scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner, or Team A scores a safety on Team B’s initial possession, in which case Team A is the winner.
  • (b) If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team (Team A) shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If Team A scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after Team A’s possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.
  • (c) If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if Team B’s initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.
  • (d) Between each overtime period, there shall be a two-minute intermission, but there shall be no halftime intermission after the second period. At the beginning of the third overtime period, the captain who lost the coin toss prior to the first overtime period shall have the first choice of the two privileges in Rule 4, Section 2, Article 2, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred.
  • (e) At the end of the first and third extra periods, etc., teams must change goals in accordance with Rule 4, Section 2, Article 3.
  • (f) A player is in possession when he is in firm grip and control of the ball inbounds (3-2-7). The defense gains possession when it catches, intercepts, or recovers a loose ball.
  • (g) The opportunity to possess applies only during kicking plays. A kickoff is the opportunity to possess for the receiving team. If the kicking team legally recovers the kick, the receiving team is considered to have had its opportunity. A punt or field goal that crosses the line of scrimmage and is muffed by the receiving team is considered to be an opportunity to possess for the receiving team. Normal touching rules by the kicking team apply.
  • (h) Each team is entitled to three timeouts during a half. If there is an excess timeout the usual rules shall apply (4-5).
  • (i) At the end of a second overtime period, timing rules shall apply as at the end of the first half. At the end of a fourth overtime period, timing rules shall apply as at the end of the fourth quarter.
  • (j) All replay reviews will be initiated by the replay assistant. Coaches’ challenges will not be allowed.

Simple solution to overtime rules

January, 26, 2010
Our conversation regarding NFL overtime rules, initiated here, produced quite a few ideas.

I was about to claim one as my own when I noticed someone else beat me to it.

"How about this, rather than starting 'all over', why not just start the overtime as if the game did not just end," theoldred29 offered. "For example, in the Cards-Packers game, the Cards missed the field goal and Green Bay took possession on the 27-yard-line or so. Why not let them start there? In NFC championship, the Saints had the ball, so they would start where they had it. Same down and distance."

This one is so simple. I can't find a drawback.

Just treat the end of the fourth quarter the same way we treat the end of the third quarter. Teams would never kneel on the ball late in regulation of a tie game. Games would simply pick up where they left off, presumably transitioning into a sudden-death situation once regulation ends.

I'll pass along a few other ideas, mixing in commentary.

jyoung1903: I got one for you Mike. It's not quite like the college overtime but it is similar. You do a coin toss and decide who wants the ball first. You do a standard kickoff with a 15-minute quarter and each team gets three timeouts. Now, whatver the team that receives does, the other team has a chance to match it or do better. Instead of starting at the 30 like in college, you just play normal. Kickoffs and everything. So (Sunday) night, the Saints kicked a field goal. Now, why not kick the ball off to the Vikings and make the Saints D make a play. If the Vikes go down and score a TD, they win. If they go down and kick a field goal, then they kick off to the Saints again. If they get stopped or turn the ball over, game over -- Saints win.

Mike Sando: I like your suggestion more than I like the college setup.

Ballota: I'd give [overtime possession] to the road team during regular season (they came in at a disadvantage) and the home team during playoffs (they earned it). All in all, though, I like the college system more, even if it's not as exciting.

Mike Sando: The college system inflates stats ridiculously. It seems to cheapen the game, I think.

sportsbum1622: A win-by-five rule, with possibly a first-TD-wins rule added, seems like a pretty good middle ground. A big play still wins the game and the defense still has to step up. The likelihood of going the full 15 minutes is small (addressing injury concerns), but the likelihood of a mediocre ending to an otherwise great game is also small. I don't care about the "unfairness" -- I just don't want to see run, 30-yard pass-interference, run, QB sneak, field goal on third down win a game and keep it from being an instant classic. Other than liking the current format, see any glaring holes in the logic?

Mike Sando: What if a team won by kicking two field goals in overtime?

glennergy1: Keep it as is, with one exception: Each team must have at least one offensive possession before a winner can be decided. There are lots of juicy implications of such a scenario. If Team A scores, they still must kick off one time. If Team B doesn't match or exceed Team A's score, team A wins. If team B outscores team A, team B wins. If they are still tied after one posession each, the game truly reverts to the sudden-death system we currently have. This would be every bit as exciting as it currently is, but would be a little more fair, and allow for a bit more game development and opportunity for both teams. Oh, and by the way, using the method I just described, you could still use your merit-based ideas to determine who gets the first OT possession, if you chose to.

Mike Sando: The sudden-death aspect is something I like about the current setup. Seems to me the NFL should keep that part of it throughout overtime.

AznTimmay: Most other professional sports have a shorter overtime period. If you model it after the other overtimes, you could have a 5-minute overtime that is not sudden death. If no team is ahead after 5 minutes, then there is an additional 10 minutes added and it becomes sudden death. This gives the kicking team a chance to win unless there is a drive over 5 minutes. It also creates alot of timeout strategy (no tv timeouts, just 30 seconds).

Mike Sando: But we lose the sudden-death element. I think that element is a huge strength of the current setup.

phohawk: Of all the proposed "solutions" for the OT "problem", the one I like the most is by Brian Burke He proposes that teams bid for possession of the ball closer and closer to their own goal. The winner is the team that offers to take the ball the farthest from the opposing endzone. The problem with his proposal, though, is that a high-powered offense probably isn't going to have much more trouble marching 99 yards down the field than it would marching 75 or 80 or 90 yards down the field (although the shortened backfield may make things more difficult).

Mike Sando: Brian Burke does excellent work. Really like his thoughts and ideas. This is another interesting one. I don't agree with your premise about teams being able to go 99 yards easily. The Titans did it against the Cardinals, but I think most teams are OK losing if they can't stop a team from going 99 yards in the clutch.

SeahawkCollin: Rather than changing sudden death, what if you simply made a rule that said there is no kicking in OT? No field goals, no punting, and the team that elects to 'receive' gets it on their own 25 yard line. First team into an end zone wins.

Mike Sando: Any change that dramatically alters in-game rules will be met with skepticism.

altenbrun: Assuming you want to keep sudden death, here is the best option: The team that wins the coin toss and chooses to take the ball first starts on their own 15-yard line (or perhaps even their 10). This way, a fluky special teams play (KO return) cannot determine the outcome and the team that gets the ball first will place themselves in immediate jeopardy in the event that they go 3 and out on their first possession.

Mike Sando: What is fluky about a long return, though?

This conversation also gained momentum on my Facebook page, with others weighing in through the NFC West mailbag.

Dave from Boston was among several who liked a six-point rule. In other words, a team could not win in overtime without scoring at least six points.

"Talk about strategy!" Dave wrote. "Do you try a long field goal and hope you hold the opponent TD-less to go get the other one? And since you have to get six points, not win by six points, you'll see both teams possess the ball unless a TD is scored on the opening drive (and if it is, that team deserved to win). Simple!

Jed from San Francisco offered another idea: "It seems to me that a big problem is the starting field position for the receiving team (New Orleans started at the 37 Sunday night). How about we move the starting kickoff up 15 yards with the option to punt. That way, the receiving team rarely starts past the 20, and could be pinned deep. Simple solution.

Former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ira Miller analyzed the field-position aspect of the debate several years ago. He noted a dramatic shift in overtime outcomes once kickoffs were moved back to the 30. I'm not sure how the trend has evolved since Ira wrote that piece in 2002.

T.J. from California was on the same path.

"How about if the kicking team kicks off from the 35 instead of the 30?" he wrote. "This would lead to more touchbacks or at least impact field position and thereby lead to the receiving team having to driver farther to get into field goal range. What do you think?

I think this issue probably requires further review. Thanks to all for advancing the conversation.