Should the NFL ditch its sudden-death rule for overtime?

Should the NFL ditch its sudden-death rule for overtime?

Yes, this subject qualifies as “news.” It’s a hot topic this morning thanks to the greatest quarterback shootout in NFL postseason history.

Maybe not the greatest quarterback shootout in NFL history, period. As a Jets fan, I’m partial to this classic. But the stakes last night were orders of magnitude higher than they were for the Jets and Dolphins, which puts Chiefs vs. Bills in a class by itself.


If you missed it, I’ll try to catch you up. All of what you’re about to see happened in the last two minutes of the game. And the first clip came on a 4th-and-13, where an incomplete pass likely would have sealed a win for the Chiefs.

The ensuing two-point conversion:

The Chiefs’ answer less than a minute later:

The Bills’ answer less than a minute after that:

That left Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs with 13 seconds to somehow advance from their own 25-yard line to field-goal range in Buffalo territory. No problem: After a quick pass to the sidelines, Mahomes hit Travis Kelce over the middle for a long gain that left the FG try just shy of 50 yards — very makeable, and ultimately made.


Twenty-five combined points. In two minutes of game play.

And if you’re thinking that these defenses were pushovers, note that Buffalo was ranked number one in the league against the pass. There were no creampuffs on the other side of the ball (although the Chiefs’ secondary was weakened by injuries). This was a simple case of two quarterbacks with hall-of-fame talent at the top of their games in their prime.

Or maybe before their primes? Mahomes is still just 26 years old. Josh Allen is 25.

If you haven’t watched much of Allen previously, here’s a clip from earlier in the game to demonstrate what sort of arm he has:

With that degree of talent behind center on both sides and each team scoring at will, the stakes for overtime were obvious: Whoever won the toss would march down the field and score a TD, ending the game. The NFL tweaked its overtime rules years ago to eliminate sudden death for a first-possession field goal in overtime; it was simply too easy for the team that won the coin toss to put together a short drive that would leave them in field-goal range. They might not even need a drive, in fact, as a long return on the kickoff to start OT would set them up to win without having to move the ball much. The new rule provided that if the first possession ended in a field goal, the other team would get the ball and have a chance to match. If their possession ended in a field goal too, tying the game again, then the rules would shift to sudden death.


But that only applied to field goals. A touchdown scored by either team would still end the game instantly. Even on the first possession.

Well, guess what:

Fans were outraged that a quarterback duel for the ages ended without Allen ever touching the ball in overtime and getting an opportunity to answer. Ironically, another playoff game ended a few years ago with a first-possession sudden-death touchdown that deprived the losing team and its star quarterback of a chance to respond. That team was … the Kansas City Chiefs, who lost to the Patriots in Mahomes’s rookie year when Tom Brady led the Pats on a game-winning drive to start OT in the AFC Championship. The Chiefs proposed changing the rules after that to allow each team at least one possession in overtime, even if the first possession led to a touchdown. The league ignored them. And as fate would have it, that meant last night that the Chiefs advanced without having to see Allen again in overtime.

Is it time to change the rule now? If so, how?

They could tweak the current rule so that each team is assured one possession in OT even if the first possession produces a touchdown. If the game is still tied after both teams have had the bill, then it’s sudden death.

But the way Mahomes and Allen were going last night, that probably wouldn’t have changed much. The winner of the coin toss would still have been heavily favored to win: The Chiefs would have gotten a TD, then the Bills would have gotten one, then the Chiefs would have scored again. Game over.


Should they scrap sudden death altogether? Some fans got creative with their recommendations:

Should they switch to college rules, where teams end up alternating two-point conversion attempts if the game remains tied beyond a certain point? I’d hate that, as it’s way too close to penalty kicks in soccer.

And under that scheme, with the Chiefs and Bills scoring at will, last night’s game might still be going this morning

I’d miss the drama of sudden death if the NFL dropped that in favor of a single 15-minute overtime but we almost certainly lost more drama last night under the current rules than we gained. There’s no telling how many more TDs might have been scored if Mahomes and Allen had another full quarter of play or what the final two minutes of OT would have looked like. We might have seen another 40 points scored.

How about one full 15-minute period and then sudden death if the game is still tied at that point? Asking NFL players to play much more than five full quarters is asking a lot.

In the meantime, a gentle reprimand to Bills fans: If you have the top-ranked pass defense in the league, you should be able to stop your opponents from moving the ball 50 yards in 13 seconds. Even if the guy on the other side is Patrick Mahomes.


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