NFL changes overtime for playoff games

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ORLANDO, Fla. --- Sudden death has gotten a little less sudden in the NFL playoffs.

New Orleans beat Minnesota on a first-possession field goal in overtime for the NFC championship. Under the new rules, teams that lose the OT coin toss in a playoff game will get a chance to score if the first team kicks a field goal.  File/Associated Press
File/Associated Press
New Orleans beat Minnesota on a first-possession field goal in overtime for the NFC championship. Under the new rules, teams that lose the OT coin toss in a playoff game will get a chance to score if the first team kicks a field goal.

The league on Tuesday changed its overtime rules for postseason games. Starting next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If that series ends with another field goal, play will continue under the current sudden-death rules.

If the team winning the toss immediately scores a touchdown, however, the game is over.

Team owners voted 28-4 on Tuesday in favor of the proposal at the NFL meetings. Minnesota, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore opposed the change.

Passage was helped by commissioner Roger Goodell's support and by a spate of statistics indicating the coin toss had become too prominent in determining overtime winners.

Minnesota lost last season's NFC championship game in overtime to New Orleans. The Saints won the toss, drove downfield and kicked a field goal to win.

"Modified sudden death is an opportunity to make a pretty good rule ... even better," said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, a co-chairman of the competition committee. "Statistically, it needed to change."

Those statistics showed that since 1994, the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game on the first possession 34 percent of the time. Overall, the team that correctly called the coin toss won overtime games nearly 60 percent of the time in the past 15 years, or since kickoffs were moved back 5 yards to the 30.

"Plenty of people on the committee, myself included, are so-called traditionalists," Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said. "I am proud to be one. But once you saw the statistics, it became obvious we had to do something."

The new rule applies only to postseason games. McKay said that could change, and several owners expressed interest in further discussions at their May meetings in Dallas.

"There was a lot of sentiment in the room to change this rule for the regular season," McKay said, though he doesn't expect that to happen this year. "Our thought is to take our time and study it a bit and make sure everyone understands the implications there would be for that."

McKay and Polian said the Vikings-Saints game had little role in the vote.

"One of the teams that voted against was in the game and, last I checked, I don't think they won," McKay said.

The players' union has said it believes any change in overtime needs to be collectively bargained. The contract between the league and players expires next March.


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