by The Mesa Messenger Editorial Staff
It will go down as one of the most memorable games in championship history. Down by 28, The New England Patriots created a comeback for the ages, taking down the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51, the first-ever Super Bowl to feature an overtime period. In a game that featured more than its fair share of memorable plays, it seemed almost like a perfect ending to a crazy night when James White reached the endzone to give the Patriots another title. Except for one problem.
The game shouldn’t have ended then.
For a league so popular, the NFL has once again shown one of its biggest flaws during its biggest showcase. The overtime rules are broken, as was shown Super Bowl Sunday when NFL MVP Matt Ryan and the league’s best offense were forced to sit and watch the Patriots score on the opening drive of overtime without the ability to rebuttal. For the second time in a decade, it’s time for the league to fix the rules regarding overtime.
This isn’t a difficult fix. In fact, the biggest argument to change the rules is that it would be incredibly simple to do so. Every other major sports league outside of the NFL has its overtime rules working efficiently. In the NBA, NHL, MLB, etc. every team has a chance to score and allows its opponents a chance to answer. Not the NFL, which takes that ability away if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown. If the NFL simply allows both teams a chance of possession, the problem would go away.
This is even more important in the postseason, which has seen its fair share of controversy with the overtime rules. Denver Bronco fans will always have fond memories of Tim Tebow’s pass to Demaryius Thomas in the 2011 NFL Playoffs. In the quickest overtime period in history, Tebow connected with Thomas for an 80 TD pass in the first play of the period. It was an amazing moment, but there is a feeling that the Pittsburgh Steeler got a raw deal by being denied the opportunity to get the ball and answer, especially considering they had the momentum. This was a bigger problem back in the 2009 NFC Championship game when the New Orleans Saints punched their Super Bowl ticket by kicking a field goal in the opening drive of overtime and beating the Minnesota Vikings.
The issue is that when a season is on the line, like it is in the playoffs, the idea both teams don’t have the ball with at least a chance to score is ridiculous. How is it that in the championship game, the Atlanta Falcons didn’t get the chance to answer the Patriots with the title at stake? It’s an unfair and broken system.
Know who also thinks this system is broken? Reigning Super Bowl Champion and Head Coach of the Patriots Bill Belichick. Back in 2012 after the Patriots beat the Jets in overtime, a reporter asked Belichick if the overtime rules was the fairest system the league could come up with. His response?
“Well I don’t like it. No.”
Belichick would go on to suggest the overtime period would feature some strategy rather than if a lucky flip of the coin. He advocated an overtime period of 8 or 10 minutes would be enforced and let the game be decided that way.
That is a valid reason, but there could be another, perhaps more exciting way to settle overtime periods. Take a page out of college football’s playbook. Have each team begin their overtime possession at the 50-yard line (15 yards further than college) and see if a team can either score a touchdown or field goal. If they do, the other team has to answer or can win if they score a touchdown while their opponents kicked a field goal. If the first team didn’t score, all their opponents have to do to win is to get points on the board to win. Simple, easy and exciting.
Super Bowl Sunday will be remembered as the greatest comeback in championship history and trophy for New England, but it should also be remembered as the time the league’s overtime rules and its flaws were showcased for the nation to see.