For the past few years, one of the biggest offseason concerns in the NFL was the league's overtime rule. Too many teams were winning on the first possession of OT (34 percent since 1994) and it was believed that the luck of a coin toss was becoming too important in deciding the outcome of games. As a result, the league instituted new OT rules for the playoffs which would give toss-losing teams the ball back if they were able to hold opponents to a field goal.
But, as so often happens, now that the rule has changed, the first possession problem has disappeared. (Temporarily, at least.) In 11 overtime games this season, a team that won the coin toss has scored on the first possession just once. The lone outlier was this week in Detroit, when the Lions lost the toss and never touched the ball.
The problem of teams not getting the ball still exists, of course. One out of 11 makes not a trend, especially when the sample size is as small as nine weeks of a season. Still, the 9 percent rate of teams winning on first possession hardly indicates that it's the epidemic some NFL folks would like to believe.
Here's a list of each 11 NFL games that have gone into overtime this season, along with a brief description of how the extra period played out:
Atlanta wins the toss and receives. The team manages one first down before punting from its own 14-yard line. A shank punt gives the Steelers the ball at midfield. On Pittsburgh's first play from scrimmage, Rashad Mendenhall goes 50 yards for a touchdown. Game ends with 12:25 remaining
After winning the toss and receiving, Houston easily moves the ball into Redskins territory. After three plays from inside the 40, Gary Kubiak elects to punt rather than attempt a long field goal. Washington responds with a long drive of its own, but fails to convert a 52-yard field goal try. On Houston's subsequent possession, it took a few plays and one deep pass to get the team back in field-goal range for the game-winner. Game ends with 3:24 remaining.
3. Atlanta Falcons 27, New Orleans Saints 24 -- Week 3
Atlanta once again had good luck with the toss, but couldn't capitalize. The Saints appeared to have the game won as the team easily marched down the field, but a Garrett Hartley(notes) chip-shot miss gave Atlanta the ball back. A seven-minute, 12-play, 57-yard drive later, the Falcons got the win. Game ends with 1:24 remaining
4. Washington Redskins 16, Green Back Packers 13 -- Week 5
More bad coin toss luck for the Redskins, who watch another team call the OT toss correctly at FedEx Field. Green Bay went three-and-out and the Redskins didn't fare much better on their first possession. An Aaron Rodgers'(notes) pick on the Packers' second offensive possession in overtime led to a Redskins victory. Game ends with 8:06 remaining.
Of the six possessions in overtime, four were of the three-and-out variety. It wasn't until a Tom Brady(notes) 23-yard completion to Deion Branch(notes) with 5:06 remaining in overtime that New England got a first down. After one more, the Pats settled in for a field goal to win. Game ends with 1:56 remaining.
The Packers become the first NFL team to lose two overtime games in the 2010 season. After a pair of traded three-and-outs, Miami got the ball back in great field position and managed two first downs to put Mason Crosby(notes) in position to win the game. Game ends with 9:01 remaining.
7. Baltimore Ravens 37, Buffalo Bills 34 -- Week 7
For a game with so much offense, it's strange that neither team gained a first down in overtime. Baltimore went three-and-out on the first possession, but then forced a Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) fumble, which set-up the game-winner from Billy Cundiff(notes). Game ends with 10:54 remaining
8. Kansas City Chiefs 13, Buffalo Bills 10 -- Week 8
Those hard luck Bills. For a while in overtime, it looked like the NFL was going to have its first tie since 2008 (when Donovan McNabb(notes) expressed confusion about the practice). But after six possessions and two missed field goals, Kansas City ended up winning as time expired. Game ends with 0:00 remaining.
A three-and-out by Arizona led to Minnesota's game-winner, which saved the team's season and, likely, Brad Childress' job.
Finally. Our first game that ended immediately after the toss. After calling it correctly, the Jets completed a deep pass to Santonio Holmes(notes) two plays after returning the opening kickoff of overtime to their own 32. Two plays later, Nick Folk(notes) kicked the game-winner. Don't cry for Detroit though. The Lions led 20-10 with 4:26 remaining in the fourth quarter and had a chance to ice the game after New York cut the lead to three points, but failed to convert a first down. Game ends with 12:42 remaining
11. Oakland Raiders 23, Kansas City Chiefs 20 -- Week 9
Chiefs win toss, go three-and-out and punt to Raiders, who gain 47 yards on their first play from scrimmage. After moving the ball to the center of the field, Sebastian Janikowski(notes) ends the game with a 33-yard field goal. Game ends with 8:06 remaining
The overtime rule isn't perfect. But neither is any proposed solution. It stinks to lose without getting the ball; but as 10 teams have shown this season, losing the toss doesn't have to be a death sentence. Play good defense and you get the ball back.