BARRY WILNER AP Professional football writer
PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – It took a few years, and for many fans, that was probably too long.
Still, the NFL has heard calls for “unfair” and adjusted its overtime rules.
However, only for the off-season.
The NFL is changing the sometimes controversial overtime rules to ensure each side gets the ball in the playoffs.
Concerned that the coin toss at the start of overtime will have too much impact on postseason game results, owners voted on Tuesday to permanently approve a proposal from the Colts and Eagles.
Beginning this season, if the team that possesses the ball first in overtime scores a touchdown in that series, the opponent still gets possession. In recent seasons, that touchdown would have ended the game.
This second possession of overtime would extend beyond the initial 15 minute period if required. Should this team tie the game, it would result in sudden death.
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The screams began in February 2017 in the Super Bowl when Tom Brady made an incredible comeback from a 28-3 deficit to level the game. The Patriots won the coin toss, marched to a touchdown, and beat the Falcons.
In the 2018 season, New England won the AFC title in OT’s first series without Kansas City getting the ball.
When the same thing happened in Kansas City during the KC-winning division game between the Bills and the Chiefs in January of this year, a bump turned into a riot.
“We always listen to the fans,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “What led to this decision was the database and the facts. When you see that, that’s a postseason theme.”
Rich McKay, the Falcons president and chairman of the Competitions Committee, admitted that Kansas City’s win over Buffalo was a factor in the owners’ vote. He said that was well in excess of the 24 votes required, but wouldn’t give the exact numbers.
“I think what the stats show is a clear problem that we can tell since the[rules]were changed in 2010,” McKay added, “and the problem comes in the postseason.”
Since the previous regular season overtime rule was introduced in 2012, the team that wins the coin toss has won the game half the time (76 games out of 152). However, both teams had at least one possession in 82% of games (124 out of 152).
Those numbers have changed quite a bit in the postseason. Since 2010, when this rule was introduced for the playoffs, seven of the 12 overtime games have been won on an initial possession touchdown, and 10 of 12 have been won by the team that won the coin toss.
“That data was compelling for us and for the league,” McKay said. “A change has been added (to the original Colts and Eagles proposal) to not make a change in the regular season but in the postseason, which is where our primary problem lies.”
The Titans had recommended that both teams have possession in overtime unless the kick-off team scores a touchdown and a 2-point conversion. That would be the end of the game. But the owners, who perhaps felt the Tennessee proposal was too gimmicky, opted for the other proposal.
Under previous rules, the 10-minute overtime continued in the regular season only if the team that got the ball first didn’t score or had a field goal. Should the side receiving the kick-off score a field goal, the team that played defense first would be awarded possession in which to score a touchdown and win, or kick a field goal and play would resume – if time permits.
Of course, in the postseason when there are no ties, overtime will continue until someone has more points.
Goodell ended the meetings by urging caution regarding Deshaun Watson’s situation and the NFL’s investigation. The quarterback, who did not play for Houston last season after 22 women accused him of sexual misconduct, will not face criminal charges. Now with the Cleveland Browns after a trade, Watson still faces civil lawsuits.
“We’re going to be guided by the facts and find whatever facts we can find,” Goodell said. “At least there is a resolution from the criminal side. Our investigation will hopefully have access to more information.”
Regarding a possible suspension of Watson, Goodell noted that a disciplinary officer appointed jointly by the league and the players’ union would make that decision.
Goodell said that if the league discovers a breach in Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ conduct regarding the integrity of the game, the information would be released publicly. Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores has sued the NFL and three teams (Miami, Denver and the New York Giants) for racist hiring practices. Flores has also accused Ross of offering him a losing match bonus in 2019, which the owner has strenuously denied.
Carolina coach Matt Rhule earlier Tuesday expressed support for a potential move — something many owners have agreed to, if only for the postseason.
“You get a shot, I get a shot,” Rhule said, “and may the best team win.”
Troy Vincent, who oversees NFL football operations, echoed Rhule’s opinion and said football fans had expressed the same opinion.
“The fan wants to see their quarterback touching the ball and the data prompted us to do that,” Vincent said.
The owners also approved an anti-tampering rule that bans a team seeking an assistant general manager from asking permission to be interviewed until after the draft. As Vincent explained, anyone on the staff of a team who has been involved in draft preparation should not be able to be hired by another club until the draft is complete.
After the draft is finalized – April 30 this year – the employing team must give consent to such discussions.
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