Bears’ George McCaskey, NFL owners vote to change overtime rules for playoffs

The league will guarantee each team a possession, starting with the upcoming playoffs.

SHARE Bears’ George McCaskey, NFL owners vote to change overtime rules for playoffs

Bills QB Josh Allen’s loss to the Chiefs in the playoffs last season was the tipping point for the NFL to change its overtime format.

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — The most thrilling game of an NFL postseason packed with them was so good that no one wanted it to end.

When it did, the conclusion was underwhelming.

The Chiefs and Bills traded punches all night Jan. 23, with a flurry of 25 points over the final 1:54 sending the game to overtime. But after matching Patrick Mahomes at every turn, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was just another spectator after the Chiefs won the OT coin toss and drove 75 yards in four minutes for the game-winning touchdown to advance 42-36.

Introducing: The Josh Allen Rule.

The NFL wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and owners voted overwhelmingly Tuesday on an overtime format that guarantees both teams a possession. It applies only to the playoffs at this point.

After each team has a possession, if one has the lead at that point, it wins. If the teams are still tied after each has had a shot, the game then goes to sudden death.

The proposal, submitted by the Colts and Eagles, passed 29-3. It needed 24 votes to become official. The Bears voted in favor.

“There was a lot of good data presented about it,” said chairman George McCaskey, who made the decision with general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. “It’s a good result. The concern they had was that too often, a flip of the coin had too much impact on the outcome of the game, particularly playoff games, and so this was designed to address that.”

McCaskey didn’t envision the format being applied to overtime in the regular season because lengthening a game raises the risk of injury.

“But we didn’t want [a coin flip] to be a way that some team’s season ended,” he said.

Overtime rules have been increasingly scrutinized as playoff games have gotten tighter. Six playoff games went to overtime over the last four seasons; just four did over the previous six seasons.

Additionally, since 2012, when the league shifted from pure sudden death to the most recent format, there were seven instances in which a team lost a playoff game in overtime without getting a possession.

What people seemed to ignore as they lobbied for this change in the wake of the Bills’ loss was that the Bills had plenty of chances to win that game before it went to overtime, just as the Falcons did in Super Bowl LI when they blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots and lost on the opening possession of OT.

When the Bills took a 29-26 lead just after the two-minute warning, they immediately allowed the Chiefs to strike on a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill. When they went up again, this time 36-33 with 13 seconds left on Allen’s fourth touchdown pass, they followed by giving up two long passes that set up the Chiefs’ tying field goal.

That was the real problem, not a rule that had been in place for a decade.

Eberflus wouldn’t share his opinion Tuesday morning before the vote, but it’s likely he’d at least agree the Bills missed their shot well before the overtime coin flip.

“It’s gonna be good either way, but I do know this: You have to play defense either way,” Eberflus said. “You’ve got to stop them. I do know that.”

That part won’t change. Even if the new rule had been in place for the Bills-Chiefs game and Allen had kept his team alive by countering Mahomes with another touchdown, the game would have gone to sudden death after that. The Bills’ defense would have needed a stop, and there was nothing to suggest it would have come through after all the late-game failures that led the Bills to that perilous position in the first place.

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