Sports Take: NFL needs to change overtime rules

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin bites his mouthguard after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 23, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. Photo courtesy of AP

By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor

Like most NFL fans, I watched in awe Sunday night as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills traded potential game-winning drives in Arrowhead Stadium during the final two minutes of regulation of the AFC playoff game.

Quarterbacks Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes were outstanding, as it was the first time in NFL history opposing quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, with at least 50 rushing yards in the same game. That makes it a shame the winner was essentially decided by a coin toss due to the NFL’s overtime rules.

With the score knotted up at 36 apiece and both offenses firing on all cylinders, combining for 25 points in the final two minutes, Allen made his only mistake of the night: calling tails. That mistake proved costly as it ended the season for the Bills. The Chiefs won the toss and Mahomes trotted onto the field ready to carve up Buffalo’s defense, once again giving the Chiefs a 42-36 win and a berth to the AFC Championship Game.

The only problem with the outcome is that Allen, who played just as well as Mahomes, never touched the ball, and Kansas City’s defense, which was getting torched just as badly as Buffalo’s, never set foot on the field during the extra period.

Under the current overtime format, which was implemented in the 2010 playoffs, the team that receives the ball first in overtime is 10-1 thanks to one rule in particular that states, “Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession.”

It’s the exception that causes great playoff games to end in such disappointing fashion. For years, NFL fans have been clamoring for a change to the rule. There was a massive debate in 2016 after Super Bowl LI, in which the Atlanta Falcons’ all-time No. 5 offense never got the chance to respond to quarterback Tom Brady’s touchdown drive, and again after the 2018 AFC Championship game between the Chiefs and New England Patriots. Yet after each of those instances, the NFL did nothing and here we are again with a sad finish to such a spectacular game.

Some people may argue that it’s up to the defense to make the stop because that’s what they’re paid to do, but shouldn’t both defenses be put to the test? In that game on Sunday, neither defense was going to stop the opposing team on their first possession; Both offenses were clicking on an insane level, which was proven time and time again in the fourth quarter. Also in the modern NFL, offenses are way ahead of the defense. As the saying goes, “A great offense beats a great defense.” University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, a defensive guru, said it himself. You can’t expect the defense to get the necessary stop right out the gate to give their team a chance.

And for those that say holding teams to a field goal is the same as getting a stop, three of the four playoff games this past weekend were decided by a game-winning field goal. Limiting offenses to a field goal isn’t a “win” for the defense.

As far as how the overtime rules should be changed, while many people would like to see the college football overtime rules implemented, I disagree. While it can make games exciting and I get the push for it, I don’t want to see NFL games going on for way too long with scores above 70. Moving the ball to the 25-yard line would give a tremendous advantage to the offense, and playoff teams are extremely efficient in the red zone. Giving them the ball already in scoring territory is just begging for a high-scoring shootout, which isn’t what overtime is for — It’s to declare a winner.

I don’t believe the NFL needs to completely overhaul their format. Just eliminate the exception and the sudden death rule. It should be as simple as if one team scores, the other team should get the chance to match or better that. If the first team fails to score and the second team does, game over, nothing else changes. Do things that way, then both teams can leave it all out on the field, guns blazing rather than Allen sitting at home wondering what could’ve been had he just said “heads.”