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Opinion: NFL Should Go Back to Sudden Death Overtime

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USA TODAY

 

This is not your father's NFL.

I get it. You can now watch games on your phone. Players miss weeks while recovering from concussions (sometimes anyway). The crucial play might just be reversed with an instant replay review from the league's Manhattan nerve center. It's the evolution of a brand and game.

But here's a suggestion for NFL owners as they gather for a quickie spring meeting Tuesday: Go back to true sudden death.

Owners are expected to adopt another change to the overtime rule, which would reduce the extra period from 15 minutes to 10, while keeping the two-possession philosophy intact. The alteration is aimed at reducing players' exposure to injury.

Well, fellas, since you're in typical tweak mode -- which often is a good thing, like when it eliminates blows to the heads of defenseless players -- how about some retro-tweaking? The NFL, which adopted the dual possession baloney in 2012, should have never messed with sudden death in the first place. This would be a good time to realize that the OT rule installed in 1974 was good enough.

Never mind the argument that a team can win the coin toss, drive 35 yards and kick a decisive field goal. If you lose the toss and your defense can't shut down a drive for that winning kick, too bad. It's pro football. James Harrison, the ageless Pittsburgh Steelers philosopher/linebacker, does not need a participation trophy. Saying this system now has a "sudden death aspect" is spin.

Who wants this 10-minute proposal anyway? Not the coaches. Two veteran NFL head coaches texted USA TODAY Sports on Monday, declaring that they never wanted to switch from the original OT model. They're willing to live with the coin toss, trust their defense if need be and take their chances.

While there were just 14 occurrences in 83 overtime games since 2012 (16.9%) when teams won the toss and then marched for the winning TD -- as the New England Patriots did in Super Bowl LI -- it's worth reflecting on the period before the adoption of the current system.

In 2011, three of the 13 OT games were won on the first possession of sudden death (23.1%). It happened twice in 19 OT games (10.5%) in 2010.

Yet momentum for re-examining the sudden death format was ignited after league MVP Peyton Manning never touched the ball during the Indianapolis Colts' overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers in a wild-card game after the 2008 season. It was the final game that Tony Dungy coached in his Hall of Fame career. But I asked him about it last weekend, and Dungy prefers sudden death. He knew his defense didn't help the cause with three penalties that preceded Darren Sproles' winning 22-yard TD run.

Bill Polian, the Hall of Fame general manager who teamed with Dungy and Manning in Indianapolis, was on the competition committee then. But before you think he pushed for a new model, think again.

"I voted not to change it," Polian told USA TODAY Sports on Monday even though there was "widespread furor" associated with the revision.

However, Polian respects the reasoning to reduce the time limit and thinks it would result in faster OT pace. The overload on players -- imagine if a team played five full quarters followed by a Thursday game -- fuels injury concerns.

Last season, the Seattle Seahawks defense was on the field for 90 plays in a 6-6 tie with the Arizona Cardinals -- a game that also proved not all field goals are chip shots. The Seahawks showed up flat the next week at the New Orleans Saints as the defense played another 72 snaps.

"That's brutal," Polian said. "To ask players to do that, you're inviting injury."

Which is why true sudden death makes so much sense to me.

I'm guessing Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman would agree, especially after enduring those grinding, back-to-back games last year.

Not quite.

"I would prefer the college style," Sherman said in a text to USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

The college format -- inflated scoring tends to be the result as teams alternate possessions from their opponent's 25-yard line until a winner emerges -- hasn't gained much momentum in the NFL. It would be a radical departure from the league's tradition, as if the two-possession business now isn't enough. It likely wouldn't appeal to your dad, but younger fans might go for it.

Sherman doesn't point to that, however, as reason to consider it. He's also talking safety.

"The college style is still fewer plays," he wrote, "and less field to cover."

Maybe so, but there's still a better fix:

Just go back to true sudden death.

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May 23, 2017
 
 
 

 

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