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Zwiller: Should the NFL change its OT rules?

| Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Last weekend football fans were treated to one of the best divisional playoff rounds in recent memory.

The Bengals upset the Titans on the road thanks to the efforts of Joe Burrow and rookie kicker Evan McPherson, 19-16. 

The 49ers continued their winning streak in the playoffs against the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers resulting in questions about the future of football in Green Bay.

The Rams led the Buccaneers 27-3, a dangerous thing to do against Tom Brady, but were able to snatch a victory from the jaws of OT with a late field goal.

But none of those games could prepare football fans for the absolute delight of a game that was the Bills-Chiefs game.

Call it a recency bias, but in my opinion, this was the best game I watched live — narrowly beating out the 2018 regular-season meeting between the Chiefs and Rams.

It has everything a game needs to be genuinely great; stakes, drama, a narrative and most importantly (for this column), controversy, but we’ll get there in a little bit.

The game, a rematch of the AFC Championship, was played between the visiting Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs, which many thought could be the AFC Championship at the start of the season (myself included), and did not disappoint at all. 

The Bills took an early 7-0 lead driving the field in 13 plays, but at the half, the game was all knotted up at 14. At the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs had a two-point lead on the Bills, but the best of the action was yet to come. 

The Chiefs possessed a 26-21 lead at the two-minute warning, but shortly after, the Bills scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to lead by three. With just 1:54 left in the game, fans, broadcasters, and players wondered alike: did the Bills leave Patrick Mahomes too much time?

Mahomes, the architect of many iconic drives and comebacks, answered the question with a resounding yes: the Chiefs scored in 52 seconds to lead by four with 1:02 left.

However, the shoe was now on the other foot, had the Chiefs, in scoring so quickly, cost themselves the game? The answer seemed to be yes, with the Bills driving the field in under a minute to score a touchdown. 

Watching the game live, I thought to myself, “Wow, what a season for the Chiefs, but the Bills were simply better,” as 13 seconds remained on the clock.

However, as Adam Schefter tweeted about the growing legend of Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes was ready to add a feat that will surely play at his almost guaranteed Hall of Fame introduction. 

With a mere 13 seconds remaining on the clock, Mahomes maneuvered his team into field goal territory, allowing Butker to kick a 49-yard field goal, tying the game at 36.

How the Chiefs did this is truly beyond this, many a team has done far less with much more; ask Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it luck, but whatever it is, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs possess it in excess. 

As the game headed into overtime, Allen called tails and the Chiefs won the toss. I genuinely think that everyone who witnessed the result of that coin toss knew what would happen next: the Chiefs would end the game with a touchdown.

And the Chiefs did not disappoint; they drove the field from their 25 in four minutes and change, and Mahomes sealed the deal with an eight-yard pass to TE Travis Kelce.

I think the Chiefs have eliminated any doubt that their offense has regressed; it is as dynamic and potent as ever. The Bengals will have their most demanding task of the playoffs to slow it. 

But rather than focus on that, I want to look at how the Chiefs won the game in overtime, or rather the mechanics of NFL overtimes.

Because as I said earlier, what made this game the most talked about this week, besides the herculean efforts of the Chiefs offense and the thrilling conclusion, was the controversy. It is, in part, what made the game great.

One cannot help but think back to the 2018 AFC Championship when the Chiefs lost to the Patriots in another controversial overtime. The Chiefs filed a rule change to the NFL, advocating for a different overtime, which was denied. 

Overtimes are by their very nature controversial. When this game ended, there was just as much praise for the Chiefs as there was dislike for the OT rules in place. People made cries for change, but they will likely fall on deaf ears.

Why would the NFL change a rule that sparks controversy and generates everything from conversations to columns? The divisional round averaged over 38 million viewers per game, the highest mark ever. And Bills-Chiefs specifically had an average audience of 42.7 million viewers and peaked at 51.1 million during the closing minutes, according to Yahoo. 

The NFL will not get rid of something that draws even more eyeballs to its games. 

Nor should the NFL. In the past, I have been against the idea of one-possession overtimes. If one team cannot even offer a rebuttal, then the winner is simply decided by the toss of a coin, the efforts of the defending team often in vain.

However, the games that end in one-possession are few and far between. According to ESPN’s Louis Riddick, there have been 163 OT games under the current rules of the NFL. Of those 163 games, only 35 ended in one possession, just shy of 22%.

I have never liked the seemingly “old-school” take of “stop them from scoring.” It has felt useless and unhelpful to a conversation that has literally decided champions.

But now, knowing that 78% of NFL teams do stop the opposing team from scoring, and the result is played out, I do think the old-school take is correct. Want to win? Stop the other team.

People often refute that statement by saying that it is unfair to the opposing team. After playing the perfect game, all Josh Allen could simply do was watch Mahomes end his season. 

That is a great point; it does feel unfair. 

But the Chiefs “did not win with the coin toss,” and saying they did so is a disservice to their achievement.

According to StatHead.com’s Drive Finder, of the 272 games played this season, 23% ended in touchdowns.

The Chiefs scoring was never a guarantee; there are no guarantees in the NFL. This season should have reminded us of that more than ever. 

Want the win? Stop them.

About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, studying Business and Theology He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joe SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL and NBA.

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