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NFL overtime rules need a CFL-style tweak

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Before the start of overtime in Super Bowl LI, the “visiting” New England Patriots listened intently to the referee’s instructions and made the call that won them the NFL championship.

“Heads.”

It was heads.

Game over.

Seriously, NFL, look at the Canadian Football League’s rules. Or college football rules. Or any sport that uses overtime.

No other sport gives the ball or the puck to one team and says, “Here, score and you win.” It’s like saying in an NHL overtime shootout between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, “Sidney Crosby can shoot, but Alexander Ovechkin only gets to shoot if Crosby doesn’t score.”

But in Houston on Sunday night, long after Lady Gaga’s boots stole the halftime show, New England won the decisive coin toss, took possession of the football after the ensuing kickoff and marched downfield for the overtime touchdown that gave it a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

It was truly a masterful drive by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who set a Super Bowl record for passing yards, won his fifth championship, was named the game’s outstanding player and rallied his team from the largest deficit in 50 preceding contests.  

The Falcons admittedly put themselves in that situation by blowing a 28-3 lead that dwindled to 28-9 at halftime. Atlanta allowed 19 fourth-quarter points and ran a series of stupid, late-game offensive play calls — trying to pass and getting sacked instead of running the ball – that took them out of range of a field goal that should have clinched their upset victory.

Because of Atlanta’s ineptitude, Super Bowl LI was the first matchup to require overtime. And the NFL’s asinine rules kept Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the league’s outstanding player, from coming onto the field in overtime.

NFL aficionados love to proclaim the U.S. loop superior to the CFL. They insist a championship team should have a defence capable of stopping its opponent once in overtime. Hogwash! Offences and defences win football games.

It may be fair to say the NFL has superior athletes, but some of the American game’s rules are vastly inferior, such as touchbacks on kickoffs, fair catches on punts and allowing the last 44 seconds of a game to expire without a play being run. Both leagues provide entertaining spectacles and true football fans should enjoy both products.

But the absolute worst rule comparison between the NFL and CFL comes in overtime.

When a CFL game is tied after regulation time, one team scrimmages on its opponent’s 35-yard line. Regardless of whether that team scores a single, field goal or touchdown (which must be followed by a two-point convert attempt), the other team’s offence gets the same opportunity. If the first team getting possession in overtime surrenders a defensive touchdown, the game is over. That seems fair. So does the notion that each team gets an equal number of opportunities to score the winning point.

The NFL, which doesn’t have single points (other than converts) does grant a small concession — if the first team scores only a field goal, the second team gets an opportunity to send its offence onto the field. Change that rule: Give the second team an opportunity. Matt Ryan should have had the opportunity to match or beat the Patriots. Or else every NFL team should spend the end of each practice rehearsing the most important part of OT:

“Heads!”

“Tails!”

“Heads!”

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About the author

Darrell Davis

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.

By Darrell Davis

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