I never considered the NFL’s postseason overtime rules to be unjust until January of 2003.
What happened in January of 2003? The Steelers lost to the Titans in overtime of a Divisional Round Playoff Game at Tennessee on January 11. It wasn’t long after that game that I started to hear about some grumblings from influential people within the Steelers’ organization—it had to be the late Mr. Rooney, one of the most influential people in the history of the NFL—that something should probably be done about the league’s overtime rules—at least in the postseason.
Rules? Maybe you weren’t fixated on the rules after Pittsburgh lost, considering Titans kicker Joe Nedney’s Oscar-worthy performance was all anyone was talking about in the days (and decades) after that heartbreaking defeat. You see, Nedney’s great acting job occurred on the Titans’ very-first possession of overtime after they won the coin toss; after Nedney connected on his second field-goal attempt following a running into the kicker call on Dewayne Washington that negated what would have been a miss, Pittsburgh didn’t get a chance to counter with some theatrics of its own (like, perhaps, a Fred Sanford-inspired fake heart attack by Hines Ward on one of those 50/50 balls that surely would have drawn a pass interference penalty).
The NFL acted swiftly on the Steelers' concerns and changed its overtime rules just in time for the 2011 postseason. No longer would a field goal on the first possession of overtime be enough for a win—at least not until the opposing offense had a chance to counter with either a field goal of its own or a game-winning touchdown. Unfortunately, this didn’t help the Steelers, who lost to Tim Tebow and the Broncos in a Wild Card Playoff Game in January of 2012. Not only did Denver score a touchdown on its first possession, but it did so on the very first play of its first possession.
Nobody seemed to care that the Steelers didn’t get a chance to counter Tebowmania with an offensive possession of their own. Why? Tebowmania was running wild, brother! In other words, the Broncos were the underdog and everyone around the country wanted them to beat the big, bad Pittsburgh Steelers.
I guess that’s kind of my point about the NFL’s overtime rule—at least in the postseason: the opinions on it vary depending on who you wanted to win the most-recent playoff game that ended in overtime.
And that brings me to this past Sunday night and the AFC Divisional Round Playoff Classic involving the Chiefs and Bills at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won the game after scoring a touchdown on their very-first possession of overtime, which immediately led to a hotly-debated discussion about the league’s postseason overtime rules. Why? Because the Bills were the underdog, that’s why.
Three seasons earlier, when the Chiefs, America’s underdog in those days, suffered the same exact fate at the hands of the evil Patriots in the AFC title game, there were some—mostly Chiefs fans and Patriots haters—who argued that both offenses should have possessed the football at least once in overtime.
This is just a guess, but I’ll bet if the Chiefs had won on the first possession of overtime, the nationwide reaction to New England’s fate would have been something along the lines of “HAHA!”
I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but we wouldn’t even be having this discussion right now if the Bills’ defense hadn’t allowed Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense to quickly move into field goal range on two plays after Buffalo took a three-point lead with 13 seconds left.
Isn’t that the bigger issue? Of course not, there’s no place for logic or reason at a time like this.
Say the NFL changes the overtime rules as a response to America (really, Buffalo and the people that want to see Brittany Matthews suffer) being robbed of something on Sunday night (I’m not sure what but most likely a Bills win and some Matthews’ tears), how long before the overtime rule is considered to be problematic yet again?
Let’s say they change it so that both teams get at least one possession in overtime regardless—at least in the playoffs. Let’s say there’s a villainous team, one that’s linked to Brittany Matthews, vs. an underdog team. The villainous team wins the coin toss and scores a touchdown on its first possession. Let’s say the underdog team, one that has no ties whatsoever to Brittany Matthews, also scores a touchdown on its first possession of overtime. The game is tied once again. Great! What happens if the villainous team then scores on the very next possession to win the game (even with a field goal)? Will folks contend that the underdog team was robbed because it didn’t get a chance to counter the villainous team’s counter?
You see what I’m getting at? It’s like the annual college football and/or basketball playoff selection show. No matter how many times they expand the brackets in each sport, there will always be teams sitting in their school gymnasiums afterward who feel like they were robbed of a chance to compete for a championship.
Not to sound cold and callous, but not only did the Bills have a chance to stop the Chiefs over the final 13 seconds of regulation, but they also had a chance to hold Kansas City out of the end zone on its first possession of overtime. Oh, by the way, Buffalo’s defense also had a chance to end things with a defensive touchdown on the Chiefs’ first offensive possession of overtime.
Finally, why is the mantra always “Defense wins championships!”...except for when it’s going up against Brittany Matthews’ fiancé on the first possession of overtime in an NFL playoff game?