NFL overtime rule meets sudden death
By Barry Wilner
ORLANDO, Fla. — Sudden death has gotten a little less sudden in the NFL playoffs.
The league yesterday changed its overtime rules for postseason games. Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If that next series ends with another field goal, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules.
If the team winning the toss immediately scores a touchdown, however, the game is over.
Team owners voted 28-4 in favor of the proposal at the NFL meetings. Minnesota, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore opposed the change.
Passage was helped by commissioner Roger Goodell's support and by a spate of statistics indicating the coin toss had become too prominent in determining overtime winners.
Minnesota lost last season's NFC championship game in overtime to New Orleans. The Saints won the toss, drove downfield and kicked a field goal.
"Modified sudden death is an opportunity to make a pretty good rule ... even better," said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. "Statistically, it needed to change. It wasn't producing the 'fairest result.' "
Those statistics showed that since 1994, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game on the first possession 34 percent of the time.
Overall, the team that correctly called the coin toss won overtime games nearly 60 percent of the time in the last 15 years, or since kickoffs were moved back 5 yards to the 30.
"Plenty of people on the committee, myself included, are so-called traditionalists," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said. "I am proud to be one. But once you saw the statistics, it became obvious we had to do something."
The new rule applies only to postseason games. During the season, games end in ties after a 15-minute overtime period. In the playoffs, a winner must be determined.