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Playoff thriller between Bills and Chiefs puts NFL on defense over its overtime rules

Football fans reveled in the exciting matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium — but the game's ending in overtime left some feeling unsatisfied.
Jamie Squire
Getty Images
Football fans reveled in the exciting matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium — but the game's ending in overtime left some feeling unsatisfied.

Football fans feasted on four incredible games this weekend — but after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills in overtime, the NFL's rules for overtime games are once again being questioned.

Unlike many other sports, pro football's rules don't require that both teams have a chance to score in overtime.

On Sunday, the two high-powered offenses fought to a 36-point tie at the end of regulation, on a Chiefs field goal that came as time expired. The Chiefs won the coin toss to receive the ball when overtime began, and because they then scored a touchdown on their opening drive, they won without the Bills' offense taking the field.

The NFL's rules for its 15-minute overtime period in the postseason state, "Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner."

The one thing that's not in dispute is that the matchup between the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and the Bills' Josh Allen delivered on its promise of showcasing a pair of electric quarterbacks whose playmaking abilities could define the next era of the NFL.

But after the pair drove their teams to score a combined 25 points in just the last two minutes of the game, many fans felt a bit deflated by how it ended. In a back-and-forth duel between explosive talents, Allen and the Bills had no opportunity to answer Mahomes' last shot.

"Josh Allen didn't even get a chance," former quarterback Danny Kanell said, "and that's why the NFL overtime is the worst overtime of any sport in the world."

The Bills had been just 13 seconds from winning in regulation, after they scored what looked to be the winning touchdown. But that touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis would be the last time Allen got to touch the ball, after Mahomes led his team into field goal range to force overtime, and then drove for a touchdown to seal the victory and end Buffalo's season.

The Chiefs have been on the losing side of the rule

Fans of the Chiefs are now on the opposite side of a playoff nightmare they endured in 2019, when Kansas City lost in overtime to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

"The rule is the rule," Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said in 2019, when he discussed that loss.

"I think it's a little bit more fair" for both teams to have a chance with the football — to attack and to respond — Kelce added, saying he agreed that his team had lost because of the flip of a coin. Not having the ability to retaliate, he added, "kinda sucks."

Teams and fans have called for change

The Chiefs submitted a proposal to change overtime rules after that loss, but the measure was voted down by NFL team owners. After Sunday's game, Mahomes acknowledged being on the preferred side of a tough situation.

"Yeah I mean it worked out well for us this time. Whenever you got two teams going back and forth like you're going, it kind of stinks that you don't get to see the other guy go, but I'll take the win this time," Mahomes said, according to local TV station WDAF. "Obviously, it hurt me last time. All you can do is play the way the rules are explained and that's what we did today."

That hasn't stopped fans from asking the NFL to ensure that both teams alternate possession. Many of the league's tweets about the game have met with critical comments, asking the league to tweak its overtime format.

"NFL overtime rules are so trash," wrote NBC Philadelphia sports reporter Taryn Hatcher. "Which is honestly an insult to trash."

Suggestions for changing the format range from simply ensuring both offenses get on the field to scenarios in which teams would start play from selected spots on the field, rather than having a traditional kickoff.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.