By Zach Naidu
There is a major rule change the NFL should implement this offseason.
However, the overtime possession rules should not be one of them.
On the season, the New England Patriots averaged 2.32 points per drive with a touchdown percentage of 26.7 percent. Meanwhile, the Chiefs, the number one scoring offense in the NFL, averaged 3.25 points per drive with a touchdown percentage of 40.5 percent. The Chiefs had one of two offenses the entire regular season that averaged three or more points per drive (the Rams being the other), meaning that of 32 teams in the NFL, only two averaged what equates to roughly a field goal every time it touched the ball.
Overtime is exactly what it should be, extra time to decide a game. It should not be treated as a new game. Former NFL player and current ESPN football analyst Ryan Clark summarized the situation best on First Take Monday morning: “The first 60 minutes … is when they’re giving each team a certain opportunity to win the game. This is the way the rules are played out. When it gets into overtime, when both teams have shown that they can’t make the plays — make the winning plays — to get this game over in regulation, now it is extenuating circumstances, and these are the rules for those circumstances… You have to play defense.” Unfortunately for Kansas City, New England won the coin toss. However, just four hours prior, the Los Angeles Rams defense was in an identical situation and produced a game-altering interception. In a game dominated by offensive firepower, defensive prowess becomes a necessity once overtime hits, and that should not be viewed negatively.
Unlike pre-2010 overtime games, the Chiefs defense didn’t have to be perfect; it could’ve allowed a field goal to keep its postseason dreams alive. The Chiefs defense simply wasn’t good enough to hold the Patriots to an average drive on the biggest stage.
It would not be utterly blasphemous to suggest a slight modification in overtime rules, but even that opens the possibility for an unnecessarily long extension of an already brutal game. New England possessed the ball for 14 minutes on its opening two drives — and only scored once. If the NFL were to change rules such that a team has a chance to respond to a touchdown, the possibility of a second overtime arises. So where would it end? The ability to hold a team to a field goal on a crucial drive is not the easiest task for a defense, but it is definitely a reasonable qualification for a championship-aspiring team.
Kansas City can, however, point a finger at the questionable roughing the passer penalty awarded to New England on the first of its last two go-ahead touchdown drives in regulation. This is a perfect segue to my next point: The NFL needs to make all penalties occurring at a crucial time reviewable and subject to change. If that were the case, the referees most likely pick up the flag on the roughing the passer penalty, and New England would’ve faced third and long from its own territory.
The more salient missed call transpired in the last two minutes of the NFC Championship Game and likely cost the New Orleans Saints a spot in the Super Bowl.
Officiating an NFL game is not a task I envy. One must enforce a myriad of rules in three- to five-second spurts, 150 times, across three and a half hours. Despite conspiracy theories, NFL officials do not have ulterior motives — sometimes they simply miss calls. Sometimes, they utterly botch game-altering calls in the most egregious fashion possible.
Cue the NFC Championship.
I have watched the replay of the infamous no-call pass interference — where Nickell Robey-Coleman literally plowed helmet-first into a defenseless Tommylee Lewis — many times since Sunday. I can’t fathom how not one, but two officials missed such a blatant attempt to interfere with a catch.
That being said, the lack of an in-game system to atone for such ghastly errors is even more deplorable on the NFL’s part. This reactive rather than proactive approach is nothing new for America’s most popular sports league.
If you knock over a glass of milk, you better clean it up. You have to; you have no choice — otherwise it will start to smell, or maybe you’ll slip. But you know what’s even more prudent than wiping up the milk? Moving the glass away from your elbow to reduce the chance you knock it over — especially when you’ve already knocked it over once before. That’s a concept my dad taught me when I was six, so why does a league run by 30-plus billionaires still struggle to understand it?
Be it domestic violence, concussions or anthem protests, the NFL is always late to the common sense and PR-nightmare-prevention party. Only when something as extreme as a person taking his own life due to CTE, or a video of a man bludgeoning a woman in an elevator circulates the press does the league decide to address a problem that was reasonably avoidable with prior diligence and caution.
Once again, Roger Goodell and the NFL have a mess on their hands with the missed pass interference call. This wasn’t the first time a called penalty (or lack thereof) substantially altered the outcome of a game. But in addition to amending penalty rules, Goodell and league officials should look at other perplexing rules that have already showed signs of proving troublesome in a high-stakes game — such as the rule that awards the opposing team the football if the offense fumbles it out of the end zone.
It shouldn’t take a team losing out on a Super Bowl birth to spark a rule change.
Move the glass, Goodell.
Contact Zach Naidu at znaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu.