This is off-topic, no poker or Vegas talk here. And the title should give you an idea of where I’m headed. We just had the first Super Bowl to go to overtime and the game was decided by a flip of the coin.
Of course, that wasn’t the case. Not in reality. I am not going to argue that the game’s outcome would have been any different if Atlanta had won the coin toss before the OT began. That would be an insane argument to make. Anyone who saw that game knows that Atlanta had virtually no chance to win the game in OT. If Atlanta had won the toss, they likely would have had a three-and-out, and after the punt, Tom Brady would have marched the Patriots down the field, just like he did. Only they may have stopped and tried a winning field goal instead of going for the TD because that’s all they would have needed. Or, even worse for the Falcons, they would have turned it over deep in their own territory. Atlanta’s goose was cooked the moment NE tied the game.
But this is actually a good game to use to discuss how bad the NFL overtime rules are, since I am so sure that it wouldn’t have made a difference. This is not just sour grapes.
If you didn’t know the rule before, you know it now. If the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on their first possession, game over, they win. And that’s what happened. Atlanta’s offense never saw the ball in OT. If New England had only scored a FG, or hadn’t scored at all on that first drive, then whoever scored first by any means would be the winner.
They “improved” it a few years ago. Before then, it didn’t matter what kind of score it was, the first score ended the game. Too many OT games were decided when the first team with the ball would make a couple of first downs and kick a FG without the other team getting a chance.
This is presumably better because now they have to get all the way to the end zone to end it. A harder task. But it could still happen—and obviously it just did.
In Sunday’s game, as soon as they said NE won the toss, I tweeted, “Atlanta will never touch the ball again. Game over.” I claim no psychic ability with that. I’m sure that’s what almost everyone who had watched Atlanta’s collapse and NE’s rally was thinking.
On the other hand, late in the 3rd quarter, who would have thought NE had the slightest chance to win the game? I saw tweets from diehard Patriots fans totally giving up all hope. So you never know. That’s the beauty of sports. There’s a reason they actually play the games and not just decide who wins in bar fights.
So maybe, if the rules were different and Atlanta was given a shot to answer NE’s OT TD, they would have tied it up. I mean, however slight, there’s a greater than zero chance of that happening.
But let’s imagine a different game, one where the outcome seemed more in doubt than this game. Remember a few years ago, in a playoff game, Green Bay and Seattle played a very similar game to the recent Super Bowl? GB had a huge lead, seemingly had the game sewn up, then Seattle made a miracle comeback to tie it up and send it into OT. Seattle won the flip, got the ball first, took it all the way down the field and got the touchdown for the win. Green Bay never touched the ball. Aaron Rodgers never touched the ball. Green Bay lost in part, because, for the entire overtime, their best player was stuck watching from the sideline, with no chance to have an impact on the game.
I complained about that on Twitter at the time, saying it wasn’t fair that GB’s offense never got the ball. In response, somebody (maybe a few people) pointed out that GB had the chance to stop Seattle from scoring and didn’t, so it was indeed fair.
That argument is bullshit.
Football is a unique game. There are two totally separate units on a team—offense and defense. Nobody plays both sides of the ball (with a few very occasional exceptions). Some teams are stronger defensively and some are stronger offensively. But any individual player only plays half the game and has no chance to influence the game when the unit he plays on is off the field.
In the other major team sports we love, a player can make a difference offensively and defensively. In baseball, sure, there are great hitters who are bad fielders and vice versa. But even if the star hitter doesn’t get an at-bat in the extra innings, he can still conceivable make a play in the field that affects the outcome (good or bad). Even a pitcher can sometimes get a big hit or make a sacrifice bunt. Or the manager has to make a decision about pinch-hitting or a double switch that could affect the game. At least in the National League. This is why the Designated Hitter sucks so badly but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
In basketball or hockey, it’s even more obvious that any player in the game could make the big play on the offensive or the defensive end (except for a hockey goalie).
So when baseball, basketball or hockey go to extra innings or overtime, both the offense and defense for each team are guaranteed to come into play.
Not necessarily so in football with the current rule. To say that Atlanta (or Green Bay a few years ago) should have just stopped the other team is to ignore the reality of how the game is played. Both those teams were stronger offensively than defensively and both sides of the ball are supposed to count. Also, defenses tend to get tired out and worn down faster than the offenses, which would tend to put the team that loses the coin toss a disadvantage. In Sunday’s game, Atlanta’s defense had been on the field for an eternity, and clearly had nothing left in the tank. You didn’t need to be Tom Brady to beat them. I could have done it.
Since I’m admitting that it wouldn’t have mattered Sunday, let’s imagine a slightly different scenario. Suppose that Atlanta had won the coin toss. And suppose that, against all odds, Atlanta was able to march down the field and get the game winning touchdown in OT. Now, everyone would be saying that it was terrible that Brady never had a chance to work his magic one more time and see if he could tie the game up. I mean, the reason nobody is making that big a deal out of the coin flip is that everyone knew that Atlanta was finished by then anyway. But suppose it was Brady and the Pats who were denied the chance to ever touch the ball in OT? Would that have caused a fuss? Imagine NE losing the game in OT when their best player never got into the game in the OT—not because of an injury or a ejection, but because of the current rules regarding OT? It sounds almost criminal.
Furthermore, the current OT rules are not just unfair to the teams and the sport, they are unfair to the fans. I said after the Seattle-GB game that the fans would have loved to see Rodgers get a chance to get his team into the end zone. Wouldn’t everyone other than Seahawk fans love to have seen him try?
Same thing in the alternate-universe scenario I just suggested for the Super Bowl. If Atlanta had taken the opening drive of OT in for a TD, wouldn’t all the fans have loved to see Brady get the ball back and see if he could do it again? The current rule screws one of the teams and the fans.
The problem is, of course, it’s really hard to come up with a great solution here. Sure, you could just say that both teams have to have at least one offensive possession in OT. Thus, after the TD in OT, the Pats would have kicked to Atlanta, and they would have a chance to tie.
Two problems with that. First, they would have the advantage of four downs. There would be no penalty for missing on a fourth down, so they’d have 25% more downs to make a first down, it would be a lot easier for them. Note: This is true now if the first team kicks a FG instead of a TD. So I guess the NFL isn’t overly concerned with that. You could do something gimmicky and say that until the team trailing is in “four-down territory” they only get three downs to make a first down. But where does “four-down territory” began? Plus you are really changing the rules of football there.
The second problem is…what if the trailing team does score and ties the game…then what? If the team that scored first got the ball again and scored again, would the other team get the ball back yet again? If not, and that ended the game, wouldn’t people like me just bitch and say that the team that got the ball first won because they won the coin toss? Well, I don’t think I would, but others might.
How about using the college rule? It’s actually also very gimmicky but I personally kind of like it. The trouble is, that rule actually gives the team that has the ball second an advantage, since they know whether or not they need to get a touchdown or just a field goal to stay even or win.
The best idea I’ve come up with is to do it like they do in basketball, or hockey (minus the penalty shots). Just make it an extra period, probably less than a full 15-minutes (I’m thinking 10 minutes) and play until the time’s up. If the score is still tied, another period. In theory, I suppose, the team that receives first could chew up the entire 10-minutes and then kick a field goal as time expires. But the way football is played these days, that seems unlikely. Even if the trailing team got the ball back with a minute or so, it’s better than the chance they have now. (On Sunday, Lightning36 tweeted out this idea, and I’ve long felt this way myself).
It’s not perfect, and I’m open to better suggestions.
But I think it needs to be corrected. You could argue that the biggest play Sunday was when the Pats called “heads” for the final coin flip. The biggest football game of the year should not have the outcome so heavily influenced by a mere flip of the coin, should it?