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You got any better ideas?

When it comes to OT, NFL says it doesn't

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / November 23, 2008
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In recent years, it has become the NFL's rules-making version of Groundhog Day.

The season ends. The Competition Committee meets to discuss on-field rules. The overtime format is analyzed at length. Statistics are reviewed.

And no changes are made.

That will likely be the case again in 2009, which is notable when considering what unfolded in Week 11 of this season: On a Thursday night, the Jets won the opening coin toss of overtime and methodically drove down the field for a game-winning field goal, and three days later, the Eagles and Bengals played to a 13-13 tie.

When it comes to overtime, they are the two topics most often discussed: how a coin toss in sudden death can create a one-possession situation, and how games can end in less-than-satisfying ties. The discussion is usually followed by the question: Should the NFL adopt a different overtime format?

Each year, the Competition Committee votes no, and one member of the influential eight-man board explained why last week.

"When you're talking about overtime, the first thing that is important to understand is the history of the rule and why it was implemented in 1974," said Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian. "Some of the founding fathers of the modern-day game wanted to eliminate ties because they thought they weren't good for the league."

Since the overtime rules were adopted in 1974, there had been just 16 ties in 417 overtime games (3.8 percent). The Eagles-Bengals game last Sunday was the 17th.

The local football entry is a good case study when it comes to the reduction in ties, as the old Boston Patriots had a total of nine ties from 1961-67. Since that time, the franchise hasn't had one.

Polian said the Competition Committee shares the view that ties aren't good for the NFL, so when members meet to discuss overtime, "we start with the premise of 'can we improve on a system that achieved the goal it set for itself?' "

The committee then analyzes data regarding the impact of the opening coin toss, which from 1974-2007 look like this:

Teams winning the toss winning the game, 53.5 percent

Teams winning the toss winning the game on the opening possession, 29.5 percent

Teams losing the toss winning the game, 42.7 percent

Games ending in a tie, 3.8 percent

Games decided by a field goal, 69.3 percent

"The most prominent criticism of the system is that teams should have one possession each," Polian said. "But when you look at the statistics, 70.5 percent of the time both teams do have at least one possession, and that number has gone up in recent years.

"When you quote that statistic to people, they might say, 'No, that's not right,' because the common perception, or the knee-jerk reaction, is that they don't."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, for one, would prefer a non-sudden-death format. His feeling is that football is a game played to the final gun, and because of that, there is meaningful strategy at the end of the game - such as how to protect a lead and conserving time to get the ball back. He feels those elements add intrigue to the game, but get lost in the current overtime format when teams are playing more for field position and the score.

Critics of a timed overtime period, however, have cited longer games and the increased risk of injury as main reasons to keep the sudden-death format.

While there are different opinions when it comes to overtime, one area that most in the NFL seem to agree upon is that the college rules - in which each team gets the ball at least once from the 25-yard line - wouldn't produce better results than the current format.

So in the end, the overtime discussion has generally circled back to where it began.

"We've looked at overtime, I think, every year for the last three years, and each time, we continue to go back to the original premise, which was to avoid ties," Polian said. "When you look at the statistics, the overtime rules have achieved what they set out to do."

Always Turkey Day for Lions
Given that the woeful Detroit Lions are the only winless team in the NFL, and they'll be hosting their annual Thanksgiving game this week, the question is sure to be asked: Why do they continue to be granted such a premier spot on the league calendar?

The answer is a nod to tradition.

The Lions hosted their first Thanksgiving game in 1934, when owner G.A. Richards - proving to be a sports marketer ahead of his time - scheduled the holiday contest in the franchise's first year in the Motor City. Richards had purchased the team that year and moved it from Portsmouth, Ohio.

Crowds for football games were sparse in those days, but the first Thanksgiving game, against the world champion Chicago Bears, drew an overflow crowd estimated at 26,000 according to newspaper accounts. Many fans had to be turned away, although they were able to listen on radio as Richards had persuaded the NBC Radio Network to broadcast the game on 94 stations.

A tradition was born, one that the NFL has been reluctant to change despite the Lions having just one playoff victory since 1957.

This Thursday's game against the Tennessee Titans - which won't have fans being turned away - will mark the 68th Thanksgiving game in Detroit's history. Except for a six-season gap from 1939-44, Thanksgiving games have played in Detroit with no interruptions.

A few years ago, owners discussed the possibility of rotating the Thanksgiving contests among other teams (Dallas also regularly hosts a game), which led Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. to make a passionate speech defending Detroit's right to maintain its tradition.

The issue, like many of the Lions' seasons, has slowly died away.

Good scouts Pioli and Dimitroff display a personnel touch
Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli and his former understudy, Thomas Dimitroff, enjoyed a two-day scouting reunion last week, as they found themselves together at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech as part of their standard scouting schedules.

That had Dimitroff, now in his first season as Atlanta Falcons general manager, reflecting on his six years working under Pioli.

"It brings us back to the days where we periodically did that together, which we always felt was an important part of the evaluation process," he said.

Last week's trip reflects that Dimitroff and Pioli, at the core, remain true to the fundamentals of scouting.

Watching tape from the office is one thing, and overseeing and organizing an entire scouting staff is another, but nothing can substitute making in-person visits, scouts often say.

The best "football guys" seem to have a knack for identifying football talent - former Packers general manager Ron Wolf comes to mind - and often times that means pounding the pavement on college scouting trips.

In short time, Dimitroff has shown how solid evaluation skills can help a team - as his 2008 draft class looks particularly strong with selections such as quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Curtis Lofton, and cornerback Chevis Jackson.

As for Pioli, his résumé speaks for itself. He's a two-time winner of the Sporting News George Young Executive of the Year award, and figures to be a top target this offseason for teams seeking a final-say general manager.

Up front about lack of backing
Might Mike Tice's five-year stint as Vikings head coach (2001-05) have been different had the current NFL personal conduct rules been in place? That was a question Tice - now in his third year as a Jaguars assistant - asked in the days leading up to today's game between the Jaguars and Vikings. Tice's Vikings tenure is remembered by many for the "Love Boat" scandal in which players hosted a sex party. Tice also was fined for scalping Super Bowl tickets. "I made a mistake with the tickets, but the 'Love Boat' thing really rattles me because you can't control players 24/7, and it's during a bye week," Tice said. "I wish the commissioner was as involved as he is now with the disciplinary things. That gives you a bit more teeth as a head coach because you know you have somebody behind you." Tice, who felt he never had that type of backup in Minnesota, said he's been humbled from the experience, and he believes he's a better coach and person for going through it. "You learn from your mistakes," he said, "and if you don't, you either don't care or you're a dumb ass."

A matter of record
Parity, anyone? Through 10 games, there were 21 teams in the NFL with a record of .500 or better, tying 2002 for the most at this point in NFL history. Furthermore, all teams in the AFC East, NFC East, and NFC South are .500 or better, marking the first time that three divisions have been .500 or better this late in the season since the league realigned in 2002.

This receiver won't get away
Another reminder of how the Dolphins are in better hands this year (6-4) than they were last year (0-10) was last week's three-year, $6 million contract extension signed by receiver Greg Camarillo. While comparisons to former Dolphin Wes Welker are a bit generous, Camarillo is still a productive pass-catcher who was entering restricted free agency at the end of the season. Unlike the previous regime, which let Welker hit restricted free agency - allowing the Patriots to swoop in - the current outfit wasn't about to get caught in a similar situation with its leading receiver. One would expect nothing less from a Bill Parcells-led front office.

Watch what you say
Technological advancements have been a boon for the NFL, but they aren't helping the career of Browns general manager Phil Savage. After receiving a less-than-flattering e-mail from a fan last week that referred to him as the worst general manager in the league, Savage fired off a quick response with a profanity, and told the e-mailer to go root for the Buffalo Bills. When the e-mail went public, Savage acknowledged the exchange and issued an apology, hoping to put a quick end to one of the more embarrassing moments of his four-year tenure.

A working holiday
Curious how the Cowboys ended up as an annual host of the second Thanksgiving game? Unlike today, when many teams would jump at the chance for such national exposure, the Cowboys - still a relatively new team under Tex Schramm - were considered kind to volunteer when the league was looking for clubs to play on the holiday in 1966. Dallas has hosted a Thanksgiving game every year since then, except for 1975 and 1977, when the St. Louis Cardinals briefly took the spot.

The longest yards
Whoever came up with this gem from the NFL's research department deserves an extra week of vacation. The Jets visit the Titans today, with quarterback Brett Favre (63,892 passing yards) dueling Kerry Collins (36,472). Only two other games in league history have had starting quarterbacks with more combined passing yardage. Topping the charts are a John Elway/Dan Marino clash in 1998 (Broncos vs. Dolphins) and a Vinny Testaverde/Favre matchup (Panthers vs. Packers) from last season.

Footnotes on kickers
Rick Gonsalves, who runs the Cape Ann Kicking Academy in Gloucester and has long studied the NFL kicking game, passes along these two nuggets:

In a reminder that kickers can get better with age, entering Week 12 action, five of the league's top 14 scorers were kickers 34 years and older: the Giants' John Carney, the Falcons' Jason Elam, the Vikings' Ryan Longwell, the Panthers' John Kasay, and the 49ers' Joe Nedney.

Needham native and current Baltimore Raven Steven Hauschka was just the seventh rookie in NFL history - and the 10th kicker overall - to connect on a field goal of 50 yards or more on his first attempt. He nailed a 54-yarder against the Texans Nov. 9.

In good hands
The Arizona Cardinals take center stage today with their home game against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, which will give a national audience a chance to appreciate the production of receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. If Fitzgerald gets three receptions in the game, he'll reach 400 for his career, a feat accomplished in just 71 games. Only one player has reached the mark faster: Boldin, who did it in 67.

Did you know?
This season, 10 rookie running backs have rushed for 100 yards in a game, the most ever in a season.

Mike Reiss can be reached at

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