How Many NFL Geniuses Does It Take to Screw Up an Overtime?


After regulation time in yesterday’s Pittsburgh-Denver Wild Card game, referee Ron Winter explained to both teams the new NFL overtime rules. Watch him here — by my watch it takes him 40 seconds.

Then watch Tim Tebow make hash of those rules. By my stop watch the play takes 29 fewer seconds to happen than it did for the rules to be explained.

For years, writers, commentators, and fans on radio call-in shows have pointed out the absurdity of the NFL’s sudden death rule: If a team wins the toss, gets the ball, and kicks a field goal or scores a touchdown, they win. That’s it. The other team never got a chance with the ball.

So then, the NFL puts a committee together to study the problem, and they come back with 40 seconds worth of rules that don’t resolve the major problem with the old rule. As Winter explained it, both teams are entitled to a chance to possess the ball — with two exceptions. First, if the defensive team scores in any fashion — i.e, by running an interception or fumble back for a touchdown or by forcing a safety — they win. Second, if if the team with the first possession scores a touchdown, the game is over.

Wait, what? Both teams are entitled to a chance to “possess the ball” except …if the first team scores a touchdown? What happened to the other team’s right to “possess the ball”?

This does not eliminate what is by far the biggest flaw in the NFL’s overtime rules, which has been around since Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts beat the Giants in the 1958 “Greatest Game of the Century” — the team who wins to coin toss has a huge advantage. In other words, luck still has a lot to do with who wins an NFL game that goes to overtime. Or at least an NFL playoff game in overtime, as this was a special set of rules developed only for postseason games.

How many NFL geniuses does it take to screw up an overtime? And if they weren’t going to flat out give both teams a chance with the ball, why bother making up any new rules at all? And what exactly are the differences between the new playoff overtime rules and the new regular season overtime rules? Guess we’ll have to wait till next season it find out.