A push to change OT rules in the NFL is gaining momentum, but Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles is on guard – Twin Cities

It was deep into last month’s NFL Honors Show, an annual Super Bowl week extravaganza, and host Keegan-Michael Key sat in the crowd gushed about the energy and entertainment value of the night. “This,” Key said, “is so much fun. With a show like this you just want it to go on and on and on and on and on. I’m right?”

Then the camera zoomed out. To Key’s right was a grinning Josh Allen.

“Or,” the Buffalo Bills quarterback said, “you just end it in a way that makes sense, is fair, and gives everyone an equal chance to win.”


Praise Allen for his sense of humor and for taking a mildly comedic approach to one of the most heartbreaking sequences of his football career. Had the NFL’s overtime rules been different, Allen might not have been in the crowd that night, instead preparing to lead the Bills to the Super Bowl for the first time in 29 seasons.

Unfortunately, at the pivotal moment of the Bills season, Allen was left in a similar capacity to that honors show eleven days later. Just a spectator.

Allen’s defense failed to stop against the Kansas City Chiefs on the first overtime advantage of the AFC divisional round. Buffalo lost 42-36. Their star quarterback, who threw for 329 yards and four touchdowns, didn’t touch the ball in overtime.

The end of the game was an 8-yard touchdown pass and sudden death from Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce. But for all intents and purposes, the Chiefs’ game-winning moment may have come when Allen called tails on the overtime coin toss. Referee John Hussey’s coin landed heads up and the Chiefs had their opening to keep Allen and the Bills’ red-hot offense off the field.

Eight plays, 75 yards, touchdown. Game over.

If ever an adrenaline pumping winning sequence in a classic playoff game also qualified as a buzzkill, this was it.

In the two months since, the NFL’s current overtime rule has been hotly debated, leading to serious discussions about potential changes at this week’s league meetings at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla. Those talks intensified behind closed doors on Monday and are expected to continue until Tuesday before a possible vote takes place. A door could open for a move that would guarantee both sides at least one possession in extra time.

The Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles submitted a rule proposal to give both teams a chance to own the football in overtime regardless of what happens in the opening game. In other words, there would be no sudden touchdown opportunity in the first series.

The Tennessee Titans, meanwhile, submitted a slightly modified pitch that has the same intention – unless the team that has the ball first in overtime scores a touchdown and also converts their two-point attempt. Under this proposal, a game could still end in sudden death on first possession.

For both proposals to pass this week, at least 24 teams must vote in favor of the change. Traditionally, this has set a high bar for many first-year rule proposals.

“I think there’s a lot of momentum for change,” said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who is also chairman of the NFL’s Competitions Committee. “But let’s see what happens.”

A popular suggestion was to stay with the status quo for the regular season but apply the proposed overtime rule changes to the playoffs. This will certainly be seriously considered at this week’s meetings. McKay has announced he’s at least for this week’s lively conversation, stressing that 10 of the last 12 overtime playoff games have been won by the team that wins the coin toss, with seven of those contests deciding first possession. McKay said, “I think the stats absolutely warrant a review of whether our overtime policies need further modification.”

New Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles believes he is well informed as to why these numbers are so in favor of the team that gets possession first in overtime.

“It’s up to the quarterbacks,” he said. “When you get to that point in the playoffs, a lot of these quarterbacks are at a high level and fully capable of just going down and winning you a game.”

The Poles were on both sides of the coin, so to speak. Two months ago, as Chiefs Executive Director of Player Staff, Poles was at Arrowhead Stadium as the Chiefs rallied to level the game with a 13-second field goal drive at the end of regular time before going into overtime won by turning their coin flip win into a 75-yard TD march.

At that moment, with the Kansas City crowd going nuts, Poles felt certain the current overtime format was fair and just.

“It worked,” he said on Monday with a smile. “Good of me.”

But three years earlier, the Poles were singing a very different tune when the Chiefs lost a 37-31 heartthrob in overtime in the AFC Championship. In that loss, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots won the coin toss and also marched 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Mahomes, this season’s MVP, never got a chance to answer.

“You’re crazy,” Poles said. “It hurts. You feel like you’ve been betrayed.”

Poles grinned, understanding the riddle.

“Obviously,” he said, “my thoughts on this have changed over time. And I reserve the right to change them again.”

Whatever it’s worth, that Patriots win in the January 2019 AFC title game came two years after they defeated the Falcons 34-28 in overtime at Super Bowl LI. Once again, the Patriots won the coin toss and Brady led them to a touchdown. Once again, this season’s MVP, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, never touched the ball in overtime.

The enthusiasm circulating through Monday’s league meetings was that changing the overtime rules might still be a bit of a stretch, in part because the proposals were so varied. Some legitimately question whether an attempt to allow each team possession in overtime would prompt similar arguments later on when teams that win the coin toss eventually score – and win – on their second OT possession without that the opponent has a chance to reply. So what?

“Do we always make sure that both teams get the same chance?” said the Poles. “Those are the kinds of discussions that are being had. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”

In some pockets, a collection of coaches and league managers prefer to leave things alone. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, for example, is happy with the status quo. Tomlin, who is a member of the League’s Competitions Committee, describes himself as a “traditionalist” and a “sudden death advocate”.

Let it be, he says.

“I do not fear sudden death,” said Tomlin. “And I never have. … I just think that (over) 60 minutes (regulation) everyone had a fair chance of winning the game. When you talk about changes related to competitive equity, I’m talking about the first 60 minutes that we all had. So win the game.”

However, Tomlin also understands the other side of this argument.

“I definitely feel a desire to do something,” he said. “Whether we can land the plane remains to be seen.”

In the case of the highly publicized Chiefs-Bills deal in January, many stressed that all the Bills had to do in overtime to put the ball back in Allen’s hands was a defensive stop. They did not, and therefore reaped what they sowed.

After all, the Chiefs went into overtime again a week later in the AFC Championship against the Cincinnati Bengals and again won the coin toss. But the Bengals intercepted Mahomes on the opening drive, turning that snack into a game-winning field goal drive — and a Super Bowl trip.

That has only fueled the argument of traditionalists, who prefer to leave things as they are.

The backlash to that mindset is fundamental, however, arguing that in the AFC division round, the Chiefs’ shaky defense — which enabled a pair of 75-yard touchdown drives in the Bills’ last two series — never had to pass the same test, which the Bills’ defense failed. And they didn’t have to pass that test in large part because the Chiefs won the coin toss.

As a result, Allen, one of the league’s most exciting quarterbacks, didn’t get a chance to continue his hot streak, failed to extend a truly entertaining playoff show and ended up having to deliver a sardonic jibe from the seats of the NFL Honors show as he continues to grapple with his heartbreak argued.

Maybe in the future, maybe in the next playoffs, such controversial moments will be reflected in the rearview mirror. Perhaps the league will move on Tuesday to enact changes and give teams the same opportunities to score on their first overtime drive.

Then again maybe not.

As much as Poland has gone back and forth, he still sees himself as a supporter of the current system. But he admitted on Monday he’s almost 50-50 on the matter and wouldn’t mind what’s decided this week.

“I’m going to revisit how this conversation is affected by the quarterback game,” Poles said. “So I understand why there might be a tendency for both teams to have possession. Ultimately, I think that’s what everyone wants to see. From a fan and entertainment perspective, that’s what people want. It’s like, ‘Hey, I want my guy to have the ball.'”

() A push to change OT rules in the NFL is gaining momentum, but Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles is on guard – Twin Cities

Jessica MacLeish

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