For the first time in the history of the National Football League, the world glimpsed the glory of a Super Bowl going into overtime Sunday night.
It’s here that we have a problem.
More is more when it’s a good thing. I get it. But let’s pump the breaks before we say the NFL’s overtime format is flawed or somehow detracts from a game with a first-possession, game-ending touchdown.
You could make the case that the overtime sessions would somehow be “more fair” if both teams had a chance on offense. But consider what might happen if the NFL were to switch to an automatic possession for both teams:
• Remember the highlight last night of the Patriots’ James White plunging across the goal line? Remember when
New York Mets outfielder Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow sent the Pittsburgh Steelers packing with a TD catch-and-run by Demaryius Thomas in the 2012 playoffs — the quickest overtime in NFL history?
In a number of cases, that goes away, and the final scene from what should be a legendary game becomes an incomplete pass at the 40-yard line, a sack or maybe a lateral bumbled and fumbled across the field. How . . . utterly unremarkable.
• A guaranteed possession would reward ineptitude. Allow the other team to shove the ball 65 yards down your throat and then you expect to get the ball back? Sorry. You’ve got half your team — your defense — and (pending the kickoff return) more than half a field to stop your opponent from scoring. Make a stop.
• Forgive the momentary math, as I invoke the “English major operating on three hours sleep following a Super Bowl shift” caveat, but . . . the team getting the ball second would have an advantage since the team on offense first would have no way of winning the game on a first possession. The team getting the second crack — potentially the team that just watched its opponent dance the cha-cha in its end zone — would have the ability to go for a two-point conversion, and the win, if the first team merely kicked the point-after.
In such a scenario, the two-point conversion becomes a more statistically worthy risk for the second team. Fivethirtyeight.com shows zero difference in win probability if you go for two or kick the PAT to tie the game. Given that the second team would have the ability to end the game and the leaguewide success rate is nearly 50-50 (48.5 percent in 2016), it’s probably a smart gamble if you’re concerned about the other team again dragging your limp, lifeless defense another 65 yards back to the end zone after you retie the score. Again, we’re rewarding failure. Sad.
So, let’s not get it twisted. No one should come away from the Super Bowl feeling like the Falcons were cheated by the system.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons didn’t deserve to get the ball back. Know why? Because they had it four times in the final 17 minutes and scored zero points. Because they had the ball on the Patriots’ 22-yard line in the fourth quarter, well within field goal range, then stumbled backward until punting was the only option. Because the Falcons’ offense had suddenly died long before the start of the NFL’s “sorta sudden death” overtime.
The system is fine. In Super Bowl LI, it was the Falcons who were broken.
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