Upon Further Review...

This weekend saw the birth of a new era for the NFL — Modified Sudden Death. For me, it is fortunate that the overtime game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers did not reveal anything about the new era. Bellow is an excerpt of an article I wrote 21 months ago about the change to playoff overtime games followed by my thoughts after Sunday’s debut.


The former playoff method for dealing with games ending in a tie was identical to regular season games. A coin toss determines the initial possession of the football. The team scoring first wins the game in a “sudden death” fashion. The new rule, which only applies to the playoffs is referred to as “modified sudden death.” This dramatic change which has tongues wagging everywhere, states that the first team to possess the football cannot win the game by means of an initial field goal played in the overtime period. Committee co-chair and Atlanta Falcons General Manager, Rich McKay stated last week that this modification would produce the “fairest result.”

McKay goes on to state,

“I have a file that’s this thick with overtime recommendations and changes. …This idea, in our minds, did the right thing for football. It kept the football decisions the same. It kept the strategy the same. It dealt with the statistical advantage that had occurred from the coin toss, which we didn’t think was fair.”

Modified sudden death now states that if the team to initially possesses the football manages only a field goal, the other team shall be given an opportunity to also attempt a score. It will now be in the best interest of the team first possessing the football to score a touchdown rather than a field goal. Where formerly a field goal would have ended the game, the opponent is now given their own chance to either tie the game with a field goal of their own, or score a touchdown and win the game.

Why the controversy? The majority of dissentions fall along one of two lines: first, the rule requires a complete overhaul to the strategy of how playoff overtime is managed, and/or secondly the rule change fails to go far enough in addressing the crux of the issue. Ironically, all dissenters agree that the system previously employed was flawed — they just wish the new rule had been even more different.

Regardless of playoffs or regular season games, most believe sudden death itself lies at the heart of the present overtime problem. While there are a those who believe that the present system should not be meddled with and that the status quo be maintained, most prefer sudden death be eliminated entirely. They favor a shortened overtime period be played so that the game is kept closer to the heart of football. Most would prefer the offense and defense be the determining factor in the outcome of the game — not a kicker.

Modified sudden death will certainly be argued about for some time. Since most coaches and fans seem to favor something different, sudden death itself may require killing. It seems clear that the NFL made progress on an issue which has been contentious for some time. Unfortunately, progress frequently does not equal perfection — and that certainly seems the case here.


After the Broncos overtime win, I think the rule change is a disaster. It is fortunate that the first opportunity to implement the rule did not affect the outcome of the game, but it made clear the inherent problems with the “modified” system. For the first time ever a franchise (especially the coaching staff) was faced with a likely game changing situation and its implications at the most critical time in the season (the playoffs). It was clear the moment Ron Winter “tried” to explain the new rules just prior to the overtime coin toss that this was no small change. The head official could not get the words out of his mouth in any intelligible manner.

If this new system were to be successful, the time to initiate the changes was in the preseason — NOT THE POSTSEASON! Instead of continuing, the League should abandon this farce NOW and return to the status quo. Bring in the new changes next preseason. The solution is quite simple: have each game, regardless of the outcome, conclude with the new tie breaking scenario and give the teams multiple weeks to work with the new scheme and its implications. This solution seems prudent, practical, and the best way to ensure fairness for these most important games.