OT rules gives coaches tough choices

Updated: January 6, 2011, 7:32 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- As if NFL coaches needed something else to worry about.

When the playoffs begin this weekend, they will feature a new rule for overtime. That field goal to win the game on the opening series of the extra session? Forget it.

If a team wins the coin toss and receives the overtime kickoff, it does not automatically win the game if it kicks a field goal. The team that kicked off then gets a possession.

Ryan In the game, if you have the ball, you have to be thinking touchdown. Obviously, it's an advantage if a team kicks a field goal on you.

-- Rex Ryan

If the trailing team also kicks a field goal, the game continues. If it scores a touchdown, it wins. And if it does not get any points, it loses.

"It's another component of a football game," said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, whose Packers are at Philadelphia on Sunday. "I clearly understand why the rule was changed, the fairness to give both teams the opportunity to have the ball."

The tweak was made last March, two months after Garrett Hartley's field goal won the NFL championship game for New Orleans over Minnesota on the opening series of OT. While that kick prompted an early Mardi Gras for Saints fans, it gave impetus to suggestions there might be a fairer way to determine outcomes in overtime.

Team owners passed the change only for the playoffs, but reserved the right to add it to the regular season if it works well.

"I was one of those guys that was hoping that this would be a yearlong thing," said Kansas City coach Todd Haley as his Chiefs prepared for Sunday's game with Baltimore. "It is different and there are multiple variables that could come into play."

Such as whether the winner of the coin toss actually would choose to go on defense first, something unheard of for OTs under the previous rules.

But there might be merits to it under the new regulations.

"When you get close, you're thinking touchdown," said Jets coach Rex Ryan, whose team is at Indianapolis on Saturday night. "In the game, if you have the ball, you have to be thinking touchdown. Obviously, it's an advantage if a team kicks a field goal on you. If you have a chance to come back, then you're basically playing four-down football until you can kick a field goal or score a touchdown. I think that's the advantage for the team that gets the ball second, or if that team scores initially."

Every coaching staff has discussed the change with the players and has spent time going over scenarios. The best solution is easy: score a TD on the first possession of overtime, preferably by running the kickoff into the end zone.

But if you don't, and you're in field goal range?

"Weather could have a factor, but there's going to be situations that come up," Haley said. "You're able to offensively move the ball down the field and you get inside the 10, maybe inside the 5, and you get into a fourth-and-short situation, you kick a field goal. That is standard procedure in original overtime rules.

"Or you could kick a field goal in that situation on fourth-and-1 and kick the ball off and they may return it for a touchdown to beat you. It will definitely bring up some interesting scenarios."

Such as trying an onside kick to begin overtime, a foolhardy move under the old system, but more likely now. Why? Because the team attempting the kick has given the opposition a chance to possess when it kicks off. If the kicking team grabs the onside kick, then marches down and makes a field goal: Victory.

Choices won't come any easier if you have the second possession and trail by three points.

"There are certain situations where you have to make a pretty big decision, particularly if the other team is up by a field goal and you're in that second possession there; your first possession, but the second possession of the overtime," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You start getting inside that 10-yard line, there are some big-time decisions that you have to kind of digest and make sure that you have an answer for when you get there."

How do you prepare for that scenario?

"The stat people would say there are assumptions involved and I'm not good with assumptions," Reid said. "I like facts. But the bottom line is you can't sit and predict weather, or the control of the game, which way it's going, and so on. You have to wait until you're in that moment. But there are certain things that you can cover, that you better think through."

Beginning this weekend.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press