Commentary

Time to bag ties altogether

Mailbag: NFL should use sudden-death format in regular season, too

Originally Published: November 26, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

As it turned out, the 2012 overtime rule change didn't create many ties, something I feared.

The St. Louis Rams tied the San Francisco 49ers last season and the Minnesota Vikings tied the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Two ties in two years are tolerable, but I would still like to find a way to eliminate ties altogether.

Under the old rules, the Packers would have won because they drove for a field goal after the overtime kickoff. But fan criticism eventually won out. Fans complained for years that it was unfair for a team to lose a game after a field goal on the opening drive of overtime.

The competition committee debated the proposal for years and finally agreed to the change that created a minimum two-possession overtime unless a team scored a touchdown on the opening drive. I feared there would be an escalation of ties.

But now, I think the NFL needs to take another step and not end the game after one overtime. Safety concerns might be the reason for not going to a sixth quarter, but if we are going to have only one or two of these potential ties a year, then why not go sudden death until someone wins?

The Vikings had 79 plays compared to the Packers' 89 for the five quarters. In overtime, though, the Vikings ran only 15 plays; the Packers ran 18. The 49ers and Rams combined for only 29 plays in overtime last year. The risk of injury really can't be that great if we are talking about only one more field goal drive to determine a winner and loser.

NFL fans, players and coaches demand a winner and loser. With no chance of expanding the number of regular-season games in the near future, the NFL needs to get the most out of its games.

Going to a sudden death, unlimited overtime could fit into a couple of changes. The league needs to expand the 46-man active roster to 50 or maybe even more. That would help provide more players if needed to get through any extra periods.

Overtime was created to minimize the chance of ties. The NFL needs to take the next step to continue the process.

From the inbox

Q: Roughing-the-passer calls are driving people crazy. Could the league bring in some new technology to help the refs out on this one? I'm no physicist, but wouldn't it be fairly simple to equip the QB's helmet with a sensor that could determine whether or not a hit was helmet to helmet? Everyone, including the refs, has to be tired of all these bad calls.

Joe in St. Louis

A: The technology is there to do something like that, but the trend that is driving you crazy is the NFL's own creation. Officials are instructed to throw a flag on any questionable hit, and the Ahmad Brooks hit on Drew Brees only backs that up. The league wants more protection on quarterbacks. It's not just the helmet-to-helmet hits. Any hit above the shoulder or at the knees is going to get flagged. I understand the situation. You don't want a second half of a season filled with backup quarterbacks. The game suffers. Unfortunately, it is creating a lot more flags than fans like.

Q: It seems as though NFL players are able to come back more quickly from concussions compared to hockey players. Is this because of the velocity before the contact in hockey or is the protocol different? In hockey, when the playoffs start, it seems as though more hooking and holding is allowed before calling a penalty. (Refs are afraid to influence the result.) Does this happen in football as well? Is it harder to get a holding or PI call in the playoffs?

Mick in Vancouver, British Columbia

A: It's an interesting comparison. The concussion collisions in hockey might be worse because they happen at faster speeds. Hockey players are on skates, and even though they aren't bigger than some football players, that big crash could be the reason it takes longer for hockey players to get back. In football, on average, you have bigger athletes hitting bigger athletes. I'm sure the protocols in both sports are about the same. All sports are sharing knowledge on concussions. Each sport is learning from the other. As for the calling of games, there is a similarity. Officials in both sports know the concept is to let players play. It's not that the officials are afraid of calling holding or pass interference, but they want to minimize those calls to create the best playing environment.

Q: I have a problem with Roy Ellison's suspension. If he's going to be suspended for flinging a curse word at a player, why doesn't Tom Brady get suspended for flinging a similar word at a referee in front of an open mike on national TV at the end of the loss to Carolina? Seems to be a bit of a double standard. The league is saying it's OK for icons to break the rules but not a little guy like Ellison.

Derek in London

A: Your point is valid. Ellison responded to an alleged racial slur by Trent Williams, but it's possible the league didn't catch any video or audio of Williams. Regardless, the response by Ellison was unacceptable and deserved some punishment. Officials have to be professional, and the league has shown it by fining players. Several years ago, Ellison was accused of using bad language toward a player, but there was no proof and no action by the league. Ellison is a full-time employee of the league as an umpire. Maybe a one-game suspension was too much considering he was responding. The player who responds to a punch usually gets the penalty. You hope there isn't a double standard for star players, though. Players have to treat officials with the same respect they should show fellow players.

Q: With the CBA limiting the number of practices, hitting, blocking, etc., how does someone like Peyton Manning get away with "unofficial" practices with receivers, backs, etc. I would think the NFL would want to put a stop to this as it creates an unfair competitive advantage due to the added practice time and reps with his receivers. Also, the NFL teams may not like these informal practices if one of their members were injured. This seems to go against the spirit and intent of the CBA, which was partially created to ensure that all teams limit their practices and, in turn, give all clubs an equal amount of preparation.

John in Belleville, Ill.

A: Players have to find some way to prepare for the season. That's why the NFL and teams have no problem with these types of camps. In many ways, they wish there were more of them. The trade-off in the new collective bargaining agreement was time off for the players. But as this season has shown, if there isn't enough done by players, injuries are inevitable. I think the NFLPA should endorse some organized workouts during the offseason. If teams aren't going to organize the offseason, someone has to figure it out.

Q: As the penalties for hits to the head increase, why doesn't the NFL simply review them? If the offensive player ducks into it or if officials determine there was no illegal contact, pick the flag up. If there was, penalize. Why has this remedy not been put in place? The game doesn't need head shots, but it does need the hitting and it is suffering from over-officiating.

Marshall in Madisonville, Ky.

A: Let's hope the NFL doesn't go in that direction. Fans don't come to games to watch a referee put his head under a hood and watch replays to determine calls. Whether you like the penalties or fines on hits, it's better to sort those issues out later and let the game go on. Fans want to see players, not officials. Adding reviews on penalties would add length to the game. Let the officials make their judgments. Sure, you hate to lose a great hit by a defensive player, but let the game go on.

Q: I am wondering about the rationale on the NFL scheduling balance this year. I have noticed that teams are playing certain divisional opponents twice in either the first or second half of the season. For example, the Giants played Philadelphia both home and away in the first half. The Giants will be playing Washington Redskins home and away in the second.

Rob in Neptune, N.J.

A: The idea goes to the concept that the league wants to schedule most of its divisional games in the first two or three weeks of the season and in the final three weeks of the regular season. There are only 96 divisional games to go around. Because those divisional games are great for ratings, the league wants to maximize their value and place them in good strategic spots. Inequities happen. You always have a team or two that has to play its first three divisional games on the road. You always have a team or two that has to play its first three divisional games at home, which could be an advantage early but a disadvantage late. Much of this goes to the idea of having a four-team division. With only six divisional games to work with, the league can't find a perfect formula, as much as it tries.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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