Sunday, September 13, 2009

NFL overtime rules: The age old debate

I just caught a little bit of today's pregame show on CBS, and the panel of analysts were discussing the results of Thursday night's game between Tennessee and Pittsburgh. For those of you who don't know, the Steelers won the game in the first possession of overtime. Anyway, every time this happens, there's inevitably a huge discussion about whether or not the overtime rules are fair.

Here's how it works now. If the fourth quarter ends with the score tied, the team captains meet with the referee for a coin toss. The visiting team gets the chance to call the flip, and whichever team wins has the opportunity to decide whether or not to play offense or defense to start overtime. Pretty much across the board, teams will take the ball first. That's because the NFL plays sudden death overtime, so whichever team scores first wins. So, it makes sense that if you are on offense, you have the best chance of winning.

Anyway, many times the team that starts overtime on offense marches down the field and scores on the first possession to win the game. The other team's offense doesn't even take the field during the extra period, and many people question whether or not that's fair. In Thursday's game, Pittsburgh won the coin toss, got within field goal range and put up three points for the victory.

Was that fair? I think so.

It takes more than offense to win a football game. Just as the Steelers' offense had the chance to score in overtime, the Titans' defense had the chance to stop them. It's not as though Tennessee doesn't have a great defense. With four sacks, three turnovers and only 13 points allowed, it could be argued that they played a great game. Add to that the fact that Pittsburgh's offense put up only 37 more yards than Tennessee's, and you could even say that the Titans' D played a better game than the Steelers. So, in a game between two teams more known for the defense than their offense, is it fair that one team's offense didn't get the ball in O.T.? Yes.

In last season's playoffs, the Colts lost in overtime to San Diego when the Chargers scored on the first possession. The outcry was a lot louder then because television viewers across the country saw Peyton Manning sitting helpless on the sidelines while his team was eliminated from the postseason. But was it fair? I think so. The sport is about more than offense. Coaches tell players from a very early age that offense, defense and special teams are equally important in winning games. That's especially true in overtime. Some teams are better offensively than defensively. The ones that are well-rounded typically win championships.

Are there alternatives to the overtime rules that would work in the NFL. Probably. College football has a system that seems to work. High school football has a system that seems to work. But chances are good that if all of the rules were changed in pro football, people would still have beef with something.

There are rules and regulations in every aspect of life that don't seem fair to everyone. But you live with it. The rules are the rules, and the rules are fair.

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