Was this the best weekend in NFL history? Without any sense of hyperbole, it might have been.
Titanic clashes between 8 genuinely worthy teams produced 4 intense, improbable and unpredictable finishes.
But one game stands alone, even above this pantheon of incredible, gripping back-and-forth clashes, as being a contender for the best game in recent memory.
For 64 minutes and 15 seconds, we witnessed the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, two teams still at the start of their window as NFL powerhouses, dueling long into the night, playing an exhilarating brand of football that the NFL could only dream of in it's showcase games.
The Bills and Chiefs gave us the perfect advert for the modern NFL. Two young, instinctive, likeable QB's in Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, a host of talented receivers like Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs, and let's face it, no defense worthy of the name.
The final 2 minutes of regulation saw an unthinkable 25 points scored, with the lead changing hands 3 times, before the Chiefs managed an even more improbable 13 second, 44 yard drive that tied the game up and sent us to overtime. The holy grail of any NFL matchup, a sign that two teams have fought their hardest for 60 minutes, and cannot be separated.
And that's when it became clear as day to any unbiased observer, that something needs to change, because here's what happened, after all of that nail-biting drama:
* The Chiefs win the toss.
* The Chiefs drive down the field, scoring a touchdown that ends the game.
Josh Allen and the Bills offense, unable to influence the game in any meaningful way once the toss was lost, looked numb as the game ended. I felt the same.
I didn't begrudge either team a win. I was wired by everything that preceded the toss, I was utterly compelled by the previous half hour of madness, but on that the final drive, the sensation of watching a back-and-forth contest felt different, almost hollow, knowing that we probably wouldn't see one team's offense.
Much like Tom Brady driving the Patriots to the 2016 Super Bowl win against the Falcons in OT, it felt inevitable that whoever won the toss would win the game, and that feels wrong on a number of levels that need articulating.
I felt strongly enough today to write a critique of all that is wrong with the NFL's current overtime rules, and why any true NFL fan should also consider them unfair.
Why are the NFL Overtime rules so bad?
Two simple sentences sum up how unbalanced the NFL overtime situation is:
The NFL overtime rules ask the team losing the coin toss to do two things to win the game, while asking the team winning the toss to do one thing to win the game.
The NFL rules dictate that the loser of a coin toss can be denied the opportunity to use it's most important player, while the other team retains the use of their most important player.
Before anyone nitpicks that some teams don't have good QB's and therefore they aren't necessarily the most important player, this isn't about who the best player is on a team, this is about who is most significant. As we all know by now, the Quarterback is the most influential player on any team, whether for better or worse.
In fact, the NFL rules look wild when written down outside of our football bubble. If we were starting the sport's rules from scratch, this proposal wouldn't get past the first round of discussions about how to break ties, and whoever brought it up would be met with perplexed stares, such is the counter-productive nature of it.
Why would the NFL want it's most important players to sit on the sidelines and have no opportunity to impact the game at it's most critical moment, after being equal to their opponent for the prior 60 minutes?
As it currently stands, the team losing the toss must also stop the other team scoring a touchdown, and then score points of it's own in order to win the game. The team winning the toss need only score a touchdown to end the game. If they do, the opposing team's offense - like Josh Allen and the Bills last night - are eliminated from the game without playing a single snap of offense.
Just read that all again. THAT is the best we can do? Seriously? Why would anyone not want to at least see if Josh Allen had a game-tying drive in him? It appeared very much - having done it twice before in the final 2 minutes - that Allen could do it. We all wanted to see him try, and we all wanted to see the game decided in as balanced a way as is possible.
In the end, however, the most damning indictment of the current NFL overtime reliance on a coin toss, is that we as observers, most of us hundreds of miles from the action in Kansas City, had as much impact on the overtime period as Allen did.
How does the NFL stack up against other sports?
Now I realize that for some people, the idea that the rules ever need changing is anathema. Rules are rules, and if they don't work out in your favor, then tough, that's just life. The defense can stop the other team too, so it's a fair contest.
There's just one problem with that argument: It's terrible, it's inaccurate, and it is grossly out of kilter with how every major sport in the US and the rest of the world operates.
First of all, let's remember that the NFL places a significantly higher burden on defensive players than those who play offense. There are no plays off on defense and the physical actions are harder physically and mentally for most players than their offensive counterparts, which is why we constantly hear about teams needing 'to get their defense off the field'. Wearing down a defense physically is a normal tactic in the NFL, and by the time overtime hits, most defenses are completely gassed.
But beyond that, the NFL treats overtime differently to every other sport.
The NFL is the only sport of any significance that operates overtime periods in such a way that one team is potentially denied the same fundamental opportunity to score as it's opponent.
Almost every sport has a tie-breaking system, whether it be 5min overtime periods in Basketball, extra innings in Baseball, or 30mins of extra time and then penalties in Soccer, most team sports require someone to win eventually in knockout competitions. It isn't unique to the NFL.
But all of those sports - and every solo sport too - maintains a commitment that whatever takes place in that extra period, both teams have the same chance to win and neither is handed an arbitrary advantage. No team is handicapped, no team suffers any penalty for losing a coin toss, and both teams are able to play all phases of the game the same way they normally would.
'Fluid' sports like Basketball, Hockey, and Soccer, are simple in this respect. The ball or puck changes possession so frequently that any advantage gleaned is minimal. In fact, only soccer actually restarts on anything but a skill basis, with tip-offs and face-offs making the team who gets possession completely fair.
'Defined possession' sports like Baseball, or in this case, football, mean that the fundamental offensive and defensive parts of the game are significantly separate, and the game stops to accommodate the change between offense and defense.
So how do other defined possession sports manage OT? Well, it's simple. Let's take Baseball, which is most analogous to what we are talking about. In the MLB, tied teams play an extra inning, as normal, with the road team batting (offense) first, and the home team batting second. Should either team be leading at the end of the inning, the game is won by that team. If it's tied, they play another inning.
Of course, there are huge differences between the two sports, but the fundamental concept is that because offense and defense cannot be played at the same time without changing the setup of the game, it is only fair that both teams have a chance to play in all phases.
How do you solve a problem like Overtime?
First, let's think about what we're trying to do: Find the best team.
That word is important, because the current rules can exclude the most critical unit of the team that loses the toss. This should never be the case in any fair solution, no matter any other flaws.
So the most important rule of any change to overtime is:
Both teams should have at least one offensive possession.
I opined last night that a full 15min quarter could be the right solution, and I still think it has merit.
It is theoretically possible that a team could take almost all of the time off the clock if they had a 99 yard drive that went in almost exactly 10 yard increments, taking all 4 downs to get each 10 yards (you could technically use almost 27 minutes of clock this way) but the reality is that no team in NFL history has a drive over 13mins long, and that also doesn't account for timeouts and the two-minute warning.
Besides, the longest drive of this weekend didn't even reach 7 minutes long. NFL drives are about chunk yardage plays, not running at 3.4 yards per carry. It's almost impossible to game the system to avoid the other team touching the ball at all.
All of which means that the most likely outcome by playing another 15mins is that both teams will get at least one possession with significant time to work with. You could bake it in, to be certain, but 15 minutes should be enough for both teams to potentially score - and one team to score more than once, or win by a 2pt conversion.
If the game is still tied, it carries on with sudden death until a team scores. There is no 'end' to overtime until one team scores, although you could demarcate the end of the period to give players a rest, and maintain some semblance of normality to the game.
Some people like the idea of the 'Spot and Choose' method, where the team that wins the toss chooses the starting yard line of the drive, and the other team chooses to take the ball or make the other team play.
My issue with this proposal is that it still doesn't guarantee either team a possession, and could end up with the same problems. When you're hitting 20-40 yard plays with regularity the way Mahomes and Allen were last night, why turn down the ball even on your own 1yd line? Then there's the question of whether it's more of an advantage to choose the spot or the possession? Ultimately, my suspicion is that we'd not be solving much by simply changing the parameters so that it was still possible for one offense to not see the field.
Then there's the 2pt shootout idea. In this scenario, the teams run alternating 2pt conversions until one team scores and the other does not.
I don't hate this if the end of the OT period was tied, or if both teams score a TD. It would save players from one of the key flaws of all overtime, that defensive players are more worn down than offensive players. Stopping a 2pt play is less draining physically, and more about scheme and execution by both sides.
But is it too manufactured? I think so. I'm not sure it's super popular, but in theory, I think it could be a useful tool to break an extended tie period after a defined time period where normal play should usually produce a winner.
Finally, College Football's new rules for 2021-22 are complicated, albeit they meet the fairness test. In the NCAAF overtime period, both teams get a 25yd drive to try and score a touchdown. If one team is ahead after that period, the game ends.
The second overtime period is the same as the first, except that if a team scores a TD, they must also go for a 2pt conversion.
If teams are still tied after these possessions, they then go to the 2pt shootout as detailed above.
The major issue with college OT rules is that they're overkill. Having staggered stages of OT to this degree is micro-managing the problem, and either the first or second stage could easily be eliminated to simplify the rules. The idea of going from the 25yd line is more appealing however, and would save players on defense from getting exhausted to some degree.
Whatever happens, it's time for change
The NFL resisted attempts to change the original (and worst) overtime rules until a similarly glaring and unfair event to last night occurred in 2009. In the NFC title game (famous for Brett Favre being targeted by the Saints in what would eventually become Bountygate), the Vikings lost in OT to a Saints Field Goal, having never possessed the ball at all and being the victim of some dubious officiating.
We find ourselves at a similar juncture in 2022, when sentiment has again reached a tipping point among normal NFL fans to make the system fairer.
That's the key word: Fairer. No overtime system in the NFL is perfect, but accepting a patently absurd and unfair system is not a viable option anymore. Change is coming, the only question is when the NFL will realize that they're only hurting themselves each time it rears it's ugly head...