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In a Game That Blew Our Minds, It Should Have Been Better

Bills-Chiefs was one of the best playoff games in recent history but ended in a frustratingly anticlimactic overtime. Don’t expect the NFL to care.

Let’s begin with the simple—but important—acknowledgement that the NFL doesn’t care about you or me. Its main priority is shoving a timely amount of football down our throats and then passing off the baton to the league’s benefactors at CBS or NBC, which will try and keep us anchored to the couch with another few hours of advertising interspersed with episodes of The Equalizer.

Those at the NFL take the re-energized overtime discussion like they take most issues when they crop up over the course of the season: With a grain of salt they can pick out of their teeth with a folded $100 bill. There are a million different tweaks the league could make to optimize football but there is simply no reason for them to do so. We’re all hooked. We’re all zombies. There’s no better televised product on Earth, and this weekend’s games felt like being hooked to a serotonin drip. So what do they care if their overtime rules are fundamentally broken? What do they care if a great team had to go home on Sunday for no other reason than this is the way it’s always been?

I understand the sentiment coming from Arrowhead and the greater Midwest. A coin flip is inherently fair. It’s even. If you want the ball back, stop Patrick Mahomes from slinging it to Travis Kelce. If you can’t, well, tough. This is why we spend all this time practicing and acquiring good players.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen after losing to Chiefs in overtime

But the frenzied final seconds of Bills-Chiefs, arguably the greatest playoff game we’ve seen in the last decade (Two decades? Half century?) deserved something a little more complex; a post-game befitting of the beautiful intricacies of both offenses. Something that could help us savor the prior 60 minutes like a fine digestif. What we got instead was the equivalent of a fine steak dinner washed down by a lukewarm cup of gas station coffee from an old stained pot. According to NFL Research, coin toss winners are 10–1 under current overtime rules. Of those 10 winners, seven won the game by scoring on the opening drive. It's not that we thought we knew what was going to happen. We have a decent statistical sample size telling us what's going to happen. You're giving a team brimming with downhill momentum an extra possession and sticking a fatigued defense back on the field without much time to recover.

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That’s the frustrating part about the game that blew our collective minds. It could have been better. It should have been better. And it’s not like the NFL doesn’t have a vault of attractive ideas sitting in the recesses of 345 Park Ave. collecting dust. There have been some innovative overtime proposals lobbied recently. There have been alternative overtimes used effectively by the competing leagues the NFL has used as a petri dish for decades. The Alliance of American Football used alternating first-and-goal from the 10-yard line possessions in overtime. If you scored, you went for two. Both teams get a shot. The XFL had alternating, single-play possessions from the 5-yard line, almost the football equivalent of penalty kicks. Team A runs a play, then team B runs a play. You get two points for each successful conversion in a best-of-five scenario. Go until someone is eliminated.

Last year, the Baltimore Ravens proposed a spot-and-choose scenario, which awards the team that wins the coin toss the right to pick where to spot the ball or whether they want to play offense or defense.

We could copy collegiate overtime. We could, as MMQB Podcast co-host Gary Gramling suggested on our show this week, install an additional 15-minute quarter. We could adopt the CFL’s overtime, which is a kind of modified collegiate overtime with a forced two-point conversion. We could come to the table, dissect the best of everything and come up with a proposal that doesn’t act as an anticlimax.

The NFL has the worst set of overtime rules out of any of the major sports. In recent years, the NHL and MLB have both openly explored with tweaks. Hockey’s overtime is an event unto itself. The strategy of condensing the game to a three-on-three matchup before eventually folding a still-tied game into a shootout is a phenomenal complement to regulation. Sometimes leagues throw them out, sometimes they stick and become part of the game’s mainstream appeal. In every case, overtime complements what we have just seen on the field. It does not deflate what we have just witnessed. In so many ways, the NFL has been afraid to openly acknowledge change, instead opting to have a lot of its game’s evolution tied to minor rule changes that ultimately create differing points of emphasis from officials. In the mind of the lay fan, for example, it is the fault of the referees that there is so much scoring in the NFL now, and not a concerted effort to kowtow to the fantasy-crazed fanbase.

As the Chiefs scored in overtime Sunday, turning their stadium into a miniature lite beer monsoon, Josh Allen sat on the bench with his helmet on staring straight out into nothing. A hug, eventually, from quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey proceeded a slow march onto the field to shake hands. He was, perhaps, the best player of the NFL’s postseason. But he did not get to touch the ball in overtime. One of the league’s brightest stars was holstered in a moment where the NFL palmed our attention like a newborn puppy. For reasons we explained already, they’re just fine with this. That doesn’t make it right.

More NFL Coverage:

A Fitting Final Game for Tom Brady (Yeah, Right)
Thirteen Seconds: Mahomes, Chiefs Win an Instant Classic
Measuring the Super Bowl Stakes for Each Remaining Quarterback
MMQB: McVay’s Faith in Stafford Rewarded on Year’s Best NFL Weekend