Saturday night’s NFL divisional matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers was confined by NFL rulebook and officiating controversy, including, a rule that may have concluded the Packers’ season earlier than expected.
After a heroic effort to get the Packers into overtime, the Cardinals elected to receive the football after a controversial botched coin toss. With the election to receive, the Cardinals possessed the opportunity to win the game with an opening drive touchdown.
The Cardinals would do so in a 80-yard, three play drive that was concluded by Cardinal’s receiver Larry Fitzgerald. In result, the game, and the Packers’ season was conclusively decided by three plays.
“Let’s go college rules. Just put us on the 25 or whatever it is and let us go at it,” Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews told USA Today’s Tom Pelissero after Saturday’s loss.
“But I don’t know. I’m sure it’ll be talked about. It sucks that we don’t have an opportunity. But those are the rules right now. We’ve got to play by them. We had an opportunity to stop them on their side of the field and force a punt and kick a field goal to win, and we didn’t do that.”
Among the three plays it took the Cardinals to drive 80-yards down the field, the Packers allowed a 75-yard catch and run by Fitzgerald on the first play of the overtime period. Only two plays later, the Cardinals punched in their ticket to the NFC Championship with a shovel pass to Fitzgerald.
The current overtime format was adjusted in 2012 after the NFL decided to allow both teams to have a chance to possess the ball in the overtime period. If the opening possession does not score a touchdown, the opposing team will possess the ball, in which case the next score of the game wins. However, on Saturday, the Packers did not get a chance to possess the football as they allowed an opening-drive touchdown.
After the game, speculation arose over the overtime rules, calling for a “college rule” scenario where both teams would possess the football at the opposing team’s 25-yard line. The teams then have an equal shot to outscore the opponent in the same amount of drives, also negating the chances of a tie.
However, due to the competitive atmosphere of the NFL, a drive starting at the 25-yard line, as suggested by Matthews, would be a mere 43-yard field goal, if the offense goes three plays without gaining a single yard, in which case it would be an offensive shootout. In such instances, the game could see numerous overtime periods and scores before coming to a finish.
Aside from Matthews’ notion to move to college football overtime standards, several others have suggested overtime periods consisting of a 10-minute overtime period regardless of who scores first or last, whichever team ends the 10-minute period with more points, wins, among many other suggestions.
“Instead of an old man flipping a coin haphazardly just let it be that the road team always gets the first shot,” Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd noted on Monday. In such case the Packers would have opened the overtime period with the ball, putting the Cardinals on the defensive.
Looking back at the Cardinals sole overtime offensive possession, they possessed the ball for only 1:05, and drove the ball 80 yards for a touchdown, simply no small feat.
Simply put, with NFC Championship hopes on the line, to allow a game-winning drive in three plays is a defeat within itself.
“Change the rule? Nah, the rules are the rules, man. Play by the rules,” Julius Peppers said according to Pelissero. Similarly, defensive tackle B.J. Raji echoed Peppers’ comments, noting, “That’s sucker stuff man. We lost the game. We should’ve won.”
In total, there were 21 games that were decided in overtime this season, in which several came down to a game-winning touchdown on the first drive. In a league where “defense wins championships,” why is the idea of a defense giving up a championship so unjustifiable?
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