Tim Tebow's penchant for Mile High Miracles won out again with a scintillating 80 yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime on the Broncos' very first pass on their very first possession. Before everyone watching could fully digest the new overtime rules instituted by the NFL 20 months ago, the game was over.
January 3, 2009 was the date thoughts to change overtime rules in the National Football League began. Year in and year out, one team would win a coin toss, drive down the field, and a kicker would boot the oblong shaped ball through the uprights. This time around, Peyton Manning, arguably the game's best quarterback, and his team the Indianapolis Colts, were deadlocked 17 all in a wild card playoff game with the San Diego Chargers and their quarterback Phillip Rivers.
- Darren Sproles scores TD in overtime to stun Colts in 2009.
The Chargers won the coin toss and promptly drove down the field. Speedy back Darren Sproles would eventually scuttle 22 yards for a touchdown to effectively end the contest. Peyton Manning's face was shown by cameras being absolutely stunned and frustrated at the same time; the future Hall of Fame quarterback was stripped of the opportunity to ever to touch the ball.
- Peyton Manning visibly frustrated he could not help win game.
Experts, prognosticators, fans, and anyone with knowledge of football decried foul. How could an overtime game end without the best quarterback in the league not having the opportunity to win a game for his team?
After much discussion, the NFL Competition Committee proposed Rule 16, the Modified Sudden Death Overtime Rule, before the 2010-2011 football season designed only for the postseason. With Articles 4(a) & 4(b), Team A (the team winning the overtime coin toss) could kick a field goal but would have to kick off to Team B (team losing the coin toss) for Team B's opportunity to tie the game with a field goal of its own or win with a touchdown.
The biggest caveat where owners were not willing to go all the way on was on touchdown scores. If a team wins the coin toss and scores a touchdown on its first possession, the game is over. Owners believed this scenario to be remote. Unfortunately, it was the exact reason for the NFL Competition Committee's decision to change overtime rules in the first place and the exact scenario of the Chargers v. Colts game.
The 2010-2011 NFL season saw no overtime games and no opportunity to test the new rule. 2011-2012's first wild card weekend became one of blowouts and snoozers until the Pittsburgh Steelers matched up against the Denver Broncos. Overtime seemed unlikely at first as the Broncos raced to a 20-6 halftime lead over a mistake laden Ben Roethlisberger and his Steelers. Eventually the Steelers raced back to tie the game at 23 and sent the game into overtime.
CBS's screen announced the game as the first non-sudden death playoff game in the history of the NFL. Thomas's touchdown made the game history not for being the first non-sudden playoff game (it was a sudden death ending), but the shortest overtime in NFL history.
Cameras showed Ben Roethlisberger with the same stunned, frustrated look on his face as Peyton Manning in 2009. The NFL's first opportunity to prove it would give one of its elite quarterbacks an equal opportunity to win a playoff game fell flat on its face. Because the Modified Sudden Death Rule does not apply to the regular season, the NFL missed two entire seasons to prove its effectiveness.
The NFL Competition Committee needs to readdress the rule. The current rule in the NCAA provides for each team an opportunity to possess the ball at the opposing team's 25 yard line in untimed periods and contains no sudden death component. The NCAA's overtime rules make it easy for either team to score and many games end with skewed statistics. Although the rules are fair they are unappealing. The NFL's old overtime rule was unfair because it gave too much weight and importance to the coin toss to determine possession. The events of today show although partially addressed, the new overtime rule still does not solve the coin toss possession problem.
The NFL Competition Committee needs to give each team an opportunity at possession regardless of field goal or touchdown. Each team will have an equal opportunity to win the game. A coin toss would then only be used for strategy to defer possession, not potentially determine a critical game outcome. Lastly, the NFL needs to use the new rule in the preseason and regular season to allow its teams to prepare for a fundamental change in the rules of the game.
Although Sunday was Tebow Time, Big Ben deserved his time as well. Now it’s the NFL's time to make a change.
Exavier B. Pope, Esq. is an entertainment and sports attorney and sports business and law blogger for ChicagoNow. All opinions expressed are those solely of Mr. Pope.
(c) 2011, Exavier Pope
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