The National Football League’s overtime rules came under intense scrutiny Monday following the Kansas City Chiefs’ thrilling 42-36 playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills.
One of the most electrifying postseason games in NFL history ended abruptly on Sunday when Travis Kelce landed a pass from Patrick Mahomes in the back of the end zone to leave the Chiefs at a victory of a third straight trip to the Super Bowl.
But Kelce’s winning score also reignited the debate over the fairness of NFL overtime rules.
Under current regulations, both teams have the opportunity to have possession of the ball at least once in overtime – unless the team starting overtime in possession scores a touchdown.
On Sunday, Mahomes and the Chiefs won the overtime toss and elected to host the kickoff.
Mahomes duly got the Chiefs up the field and found Kelce to win the game, which meant the Bills were knocked out without a chance to score in overtime.
While that result seemed like an unsatisfying way to end what had been a classic encounter, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was magnanimous in the loss.
“The rules are what they are,” Allen said afterwards. “I can’t complain about that because if it was the other way around we’d be celebrating too. That’s what it is at this point. We just haven’t made enough plays this evening.”
However, many critics, including several former players, said the result highlighted the need for a rethink of the rules, arguing that the current system effectively allows overtime to be settled randomly.
– ‘Overtime rules stink’ –
“The overtime rules stink though. Both offenses should have a chance to compete,” wrote Torrey Smith, the former Super Bowl-winning wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Emmanuel Acho, the former Cleveland Browns linebacker who now works as a television analyst, also called for the rules to be rewritten.
“It’s time to re-examine the NFL’s overtime rules,” Acho wrote. “Josh Allen threw for 329 yards and 4 touchdowns, scored on 3 of his last 4 possessions and never touched the ball in overtime.
“Not allowing Josh Allen, the best player in the game today, to touch the ball in overtime is something the NFL needs to fix.
“Such a great game shouldn’t have come down to a draw.”
It’s not the first time the rules have come under fire in recent seasons.
In 2019, the Chiefs were on the side of sudden death rules when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots scored a first overtime touchdown to win the AFC championship and reach the Super Bowl.
Two years earlier, the Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl under the same rule – scoring a touchdown on the first overtime drive to win the game 34-28.
Mahomes, who has now been a victim and beneficiary of the overtime rules, admitted after Sunday’s game that the regulations “reeked a bit”.
“It worked well for us this time, but sometimes when you have two teams coming and going as you go, it kinda stinks that you don’t see the other guy go,” Mahomes said.
“I’m going to get the win this time. Obviously it hurt me last time. All you can do is play by the rules as they’re explained. That’s what we did today today.”
Judging by recent history, however, the rules are unlikely to be rewritten any time soon.
After their loss to the Patriots in the 2019 AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs offered to change the rulebook so that both teams have at least one overtime possession, even if one team scores a touchdown on the first drive . The proposal stalled amidst indifference from other clubs.
According to NFL regulations, a rule change must receive approval from 24 of the league’s 32 owners. The Chiefs’ proposal was not even put to a vote once it became clear it would not receive support.
Troy Vincent, a former player who serves as the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, argued in 2019 that league research showed both teams had at least one possession in 80% of overtime games. since 2001.
“I’m just putting on my old cap, you have to play D (defense, to win),” Vincent said. “Usually when people increase it (overtime rules) it’s because they failed at the other end.”