Should the NFL fix their overtime rules?

Wynton Jackson | Staff Writer

The National Football League won. Following the disappointment of their first “Super Wild Card Weekend” was likely the most incredible weekend in football, or maybe even American sports history. The 2022 Divisional Round games ended either on a walk-off field goal or touchdown.

The games did not only just have close finishes, but they were incredible in their entirety. The Bengals and Titans were stuck in a defensive showdown with Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson sending Tennessee home; the 49ers and Green Bay played a similar game but in temperatures close to 0 degrees, though San Francisco pulled off the upset. The L.A. Rams were crushing the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, but critical mistakes led to yet another Tom Brady comeback, although the Bucs fell short.

Finally, to end this already crazy weekend, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills played what might be the greatest NFL game I’ve ever seen. 

This year, both teams had rough starts and lots of question marks. The game had the perfect set-up: the Chiefs walked all over the Bills in the AFC Championship last year, ending with the iconic shot of Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs staying on the field to watch the celebration, hands on his helmet in disbelief. They similarly demolished their Wild Card opponents, as the Chiefs beat the Steelers 42-21 and the Bills beat the Patriots 47-17. 

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is and has been the best quarterback in the NFL for the last three years or so. Bills QB Josh Allen proved he’s not far behind, if at all. 

Of the 28 combined points scored in the fourth quarter, 17 came in the game’s last two minutes. Mahomes and Allen traded game-winning drives until Allen threw a touchdown strike to receiver Gabriel Davis, seemingly ending the game with 13 seconds left. Mahomes needed only ten to cover nearly 50 yards and set up a field goal kick that sent the game to overtime. 

And there lies the problem: the overtime. In the NFL, the referee flips a coin at the start of games and overtime, of which the winner can choose to receive the ball or kick it to the other team. In overtime, if the winner gets the ball and scores a touchdown, they win the game. The other team doesn’t get a chance to respond; the game is over. 

If the first team kicks a field goal, the other gets a chance to score a touchdown. If they also kick a field goal, it keeps going until someone scores a touchdown, or the defense gets a turnover, and the offense kicks a field goal. Confusing, I know. 

The Chiefs won the toss, and, unsurprisingly, Mahomes continued his dominance and won the game with a walk-off touchdown to tight end Travis Kelce. Josh Allen, who just had two incredible touchdown drives and thought he sealed the game, didn’t get an opportunity to go at the porous Kansas City defense again. 

Kansas City has been on the opposite side of this situation before; in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots won the overtime coin toss and eventually won the game, keeping Mahomes on the sideline.

The situation caused a divide on social media between those who want the rule changed and those who think it’s okay. While the arguments were emotionally charged immediately after the game, both sides made reasonable statements.

While overtime exists in case of emergency, the point of the game is to finish within regulation. It isn’t the 5th quarter; the 13-second miracle drive-by Mahomes wouldn’t have happened if he knew that there was more time until the end of the game.  

The Bills also had multiple chances to stop the Chiefs during the game. During the final drive in regulation, they rushed four defenders at the line instead of three to add another player in coverage. They tried to cover the sidelines even though the Chiefs had all their timeouts, leaving the middle of the field wide open for exploitation.

Though Josh Allen and the Bills wouldn’t care, the overtime rules try to keep the game as short as possible in concern for the safety of the players. Both defenses were visibly gassed, and if they had to keep trotting onto the field for more eight-to-twelve play drives, the risk of injury would increase drastically. 

Against a generational quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, there isn’t much a defense can do, but Buffalo finished with the top defense in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. At some point, the best defense has to get a stop, or at least make Kansas City kick a field goal in overtime, aka OT, to give Allen another chance. 

In support of changing the rules, the coin toss in the playoffs is unfair. There have been 11 OT games in the playoffs with these rules, and the toss winner has won 10 of those games. The evidence shows that the offense is overwhelmingly favored no matter how good a defense is.

Although the rules are in place to protect the players, the players are still the ones who decide to put themselves in harm’s way in the first place. On the entire 53-man roster, I highly doubt that any of those players would’ve been fine with going home without a chance to respond. No matter the risk, the post-season is win or go home, and with the Chiefs being their biggest rival, the Bills would have gladly suited up for the remaining 10:45 in the overtime period for a chance to win. 

There’s also an entertainment aspect to this argument. For a league that just added a 17th game as a cash grab, it’s weird that they wouldn’t want another ten minutes of the Mahomes-Allen showdown. The NFL has consistently shown that it doesn’t care about player safety. Why would they start here? 

Whether or not the OT regulations should be changed, it’ll likely take a while before anything changes. Stephen Holder of The Athletic wrote the day after the game: 

“That’s a long way of saying the NFL does not approach these matters rashly. So, the idea that Sunday night’s events will inevitably lead to change is probably premature. Even when the league does implement new rules, it often starts slowly.”

The NFL may look at the rules again, but I wouldn’t expect anything drastic either this season or next. As unfortunate as that is for Buffalo, Josh Allen has established himself as one of the best three quarterbacks in the league. They’ll be back next year, hungrier than ever.

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