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March 23, 2010

NFL Changes Rule for Post-Season Overtime; Field Goal Won't End Game In First Possession

I don't like this rule -- it's kludgy.

The NFL has changed its overtime rules for playoff games. Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball.

If the game is still tied after that, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules. Should the team winning the toss immediately score a touchdown, then the game is over.

Team owners voted 28-4 on Tuesday in favor of the proposal at the NFL meetings. The new rule applies only for postseason games.

If the team scoring second scores a touchdown, then they win. So the rule, effectively, is "Don't bother trying for a field goal on your first possession." Because only if you stop the other team from scoring entirely do you win; if they score a field goal, the game is still tied and proceeds to normal overtime. If they score a touchdown, you actually lose.

I've never really understood what was so bad about losing a game in overtime on a field goal. A field goal isn't a gimme. It's part of the game, isn't it? It's not some debased technicality or something. It's a genuine score.

If two teams are tied with three seconds left in regular time, and one team scores a field goal, the game is over, and the team scoring the field goal wins. We don't say "Oh, the other team should have a possession to try to answer that field goal; put two more minutes on the clock." We say the the game is over.

So if two teams have battled to a standstill after 60 minutes, what is so awful about allowing the next score decide the game? The game is basically a coin flip, right? The two teams have proven themselves each other's equal. They're tied, meaning no one is better. It's a 50/50 proposition for resolving it, then, whatever way you do it. No team really deserves the win, as neither beat the other. So what is the problem in acknowledging that and leaving it up to the first score? And if the first score is flukey one, so what?

Of the various ways of resolving this, this seems among the kludgiest and dumbest and least intuitive. If you want both teams to have possession, then get rid of the Sudden Death rule entirely and see what the score is after another 15 minutes of play. (Or less -- 12 minutes is enough.) If it's still tied after that, then go a sudden death period.

Or make it First Team to Six, which is somewhat like the rule adopted, but less kludgy.

Or "Win by Four," that is, four points or more. Hell, in Overtime, you can give teams a chance at a special two-point conversion from the two if they score a field goal; they have to get the ball into the endzone to pick up the extra two points and win by four (actually by five). That satisfies what the NFL seems to want, which is "You can only win on a touchdown or touchdown-like play."

Or just leave the damn rule alone. Look, if you let the other team pick up 40 yards to get into field goal position, you've failed. You knew what was required to continue playing, and you failed to achieve that. The game wasn't "decided on a coin flip." It was decided when you lost the toss and then allowed the opponent to capitalize on that.

Eh. There will still be shouts of "It's not right!" when one team scores on the opening kickoff on a flukey broken-field return. Maybe we need a rule about that, too.

Unmentioned in the rule change is a safety. I assume this means that if one team scores a safety, the game is over, too. As it should be.

But safeties are far flukier than field goals.

I just get this weird "Field Goals Don't Count" vibe from this rule. Sure, they're not really exciting, and sure, the NFL has implemented rules to discourage them. But they are a "real score" and not some kind of made-up technical fakey-score. It's a genuine score. Teams win games on nothing at all but field goals. Last-second field goals are accepted as genuine scores in regular time. Why shouldn't they count in overtime?



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posted by Ace at 04:15 PM

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