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Steelers' Mike Tomlin on Possible OT Rule Changes: 'I Don't Fear Sudden Death'

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVMarch 28, 2022

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 16: Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks up from the sidelines during an AFC wild card playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs on Jan 16, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts have proposed a rule change to the league's overtime system this offseason, guaranteeing each team a possession in extra time, while the Tennessee Titans proposed that each team receive an overtime possession unless the first team to get the ball scores both a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

NFL owners will decide between adopting one of those changes and keeping the current system intact. But Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who is one of 10 members on the NFL's competition committee, told reporters Monday he remains in favor of the league's previous sudden-death format:

"To be quite honest with you, I'm a sudden-death advocate. I'm a traditionalist. I don't fear sudden death and I never have, but obviously I lost that battle a decade ago. But my position remains unchanged. I am one of the few sudden-death advocates I would imagine.
"I just think 60 minutes everybody has had a fair opportunity to win the game. When you're talking about changes as it pertains to competitive fairness, I speak to the first 60 minutes that we all had. So, win the game. I don't fear sudden death."

For any rule change to take place, 24 owners will need to approve. Competition committee chairman Rich McKay told reporters Friday there is "a lot of momentum" to change the overtime format, but nothing is guaranteed.

"I think my history on this rule tells me that 24 votes is not easy to get," he added. "But I do think the statistics absolutely warrant an examination of whether overtime rules need to be further modified."

The NFL once used a sudden-death format where the first team to score in the extra period won the game. The league changed to its current format in 2012; both teams get at least one possession unless the first team to receive the ball scores a touchdown on its first drive. 

But the oft-debated format came into the spotlight during the 2021 NFL playoffs, when an instant classic between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round went to overtime. The Chiefs won the toss, scored a touchdown on their first possession and won the game, and Josh Allen and the Bills offense never touched the ball.

Critics of the system argued that in a game between such dominant offenses—the teams combined to score 78 points and accumulate 974 yards of total offense—the coin toss decided the game. They've pointed to the fact that NFL rules often favor offenses and that the league has become more pass-oriented and offense-driven. 

Mina Kimes @minakimes

The NFL shouldn’t change the overtime rules because the Bills got screwed (they did not get screwed). They should change them because a system where teams that win the toss go 10-1 stinks! <a href="https://t.co/dDs8L1ThNp">pic.twitter.com/dDs8L1ThNp</a>

Saquon Barkley @saquon

So whoever win the coin toss win the game?

Opponents of changing the system say defense is also a part of the game and, as Tomlin argued, that teams have 60 minutes to win in regulation. If you don't want to find yourself at the mercy of a coin toss, win the game in the first four quarters.

NFL Philosophy @NFLosophy

Unpopular opinion: Overtime rules are fine. They’re not the best but part of football is playing defense. Don’t complain about not getting the ball. Make a stop.

Ryan Phillips @RumorsandRants

Just to chime in: both teams knew the NFL’s overtime rules. If you’re a Bills fan mad you didn’t get a chance in OT, I get it, but they allowed KC to go 44 yards in 13 seconds to tie the game. <br><br>Don’t like the OT rules? Prevent the game from getting there.

Regardless, the two overtime proposals show the topic is on people's minds in the NFL world, and even Tomlin implied a rule change could be coming.

"I'm sure that we'll find some resolution to address it," Tomlin said. "How? You know, the final proposal that we all rally around I think will be determined in the next couple of days. But I think everybody has a desire to address the issues and so we've got a couple proposals on the floor. I'm sure we'll narrow that and hopefully come to some resolution here, while we are here."

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