As NFL kickers have reached unprecedented accuracy levels, a tweak to the overtime rules makes sense.
In the last NFC Championship game, the New Orleans Saints won the overtime coin toss, cobbled together a modest drive and kicker Garrett Hartley split the goal posts to lift his team to victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Saints went on to their first Super Bowl in franchise history, a game they won over the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts.
Due to a new NFL rule announced this week, the kind of sudden death witnessed in the NFC title game will be a thing of the past in high-stakes postseason games.
Beginning next season, if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball. If their next series ends with another field goal, play continues under the current sudden-death rules.
If the team that wins the coin toss scores a touchdown on their first drive, the game ends.
Team owners voted 28-4 in favor of the rule change.
Not everyone is happy with the change. Some have expressed their desire to stick with the traditional method of deciding a winner when a game goes into overtime.
But in the modern era of professional football, the old way put too much emphasis on the sheer luck of the coin toss. If a team wins the flip, they have a better shot of winning because most kickers are highly accurate these days.
Largely untested Hartley was able to step into the pressure-packed situation and make it look easy – his kick sailed perfectly through the Louisiana Superdome uprights.
Take practically any NFL kicker and put him in the same situation, and more often than not, the same result would occur. Kicking field goals in the NFL is not nearly the adventure it was decades ago.
Many were against the overtime changes in college football a few years back. While it may not be a perfect system for determining a winner, it’s certainly better than deciding a game essentially by a coin toss.
The college system lets players breathe a little. It’s OK to give up a field goal or a touchdown, as long as it’s matched. This creates an exciting environment. It encourages a shootout.
It couldn’t hurt for the NFL to experiment with some overtime rule changes. If the new rules go well this year, perhaps it’s worth looking into applying the same rules to regular season games.
It may be tough for Saints fans to fathom, but imagine if the Vikings won the coin toss and hit a game-winning field goal without the Saints' high-powered offense ever stepping onto the field of play in overtime.
Especially with a comeback specialist like Brett Favre, surely lots of Vikings fans have wondered “what if.”
Michael Tortorich writes for the Weekly Citizen of Gonzales, La.