Venkataraman: Overruling the NFL’s overtime rules

Jan. 22, 2016, 2:40 a.m.

Having lived on the West (best) Coast for 12 years now, I had forgotten what it was like to have to stay up late to catch key sporting events as they happen live. The typical 10 a.m. PST–1:15 p.m. PST–5:20 p.m. PST kickoffs for football have been ingrained in me over a decade’s worth of Sundays spent watching America’s game on television. In fact, the sole reason my family still maintains a cable subscription is probably because of my addiction to live sports.

With this schedule firmly affixed in my brain, imagine my surprise when, while situated in New Jersey for a music festival last weekend, trying to coordinate a group performance with eight other people, someone flipped on the TV and found the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers locked in a thoroughly riveting game. Needless to say, coordination was put on hold in favor of watching Aaron Rodgers basically put his team on his back and Larry Fitzgerald turn the clock back to the days when he was the most terrifying receiver and open field threat in football.

For lack of a better word, the game was nuts. Every time the Cardinals would put together a decent drive, Carson Palmer would fire up an ill-advised throw that would either be picked in the end zone or nearly picked in the end zone. With numerous chances to seal the game, the Cardinals continued to settle for field goals and leave the door just open enough for the Packers to come back.

And come back they did, albeit in excessively tense fashion. When the Cardinals finally punched the ball into the end zone on a tipped pass that just happened to find the hands of Michael Floyd, you got the sense that Aaron Rodgers might just have a little magic left in him. Despite being down nearly all his productive receivers, Rodgers is regarded as one of the most lethal quarterbacks in the NFL for a reason. But then the Packers turned the ball over in just four plays, the Cardinals threw an incomplete pass on the way to a field goal and somehow Rodgers got the ball back in his hands with no timeouts and 1:55 left on the clock.

What ensued will go down as one of the greatest drives in NFL history, even if it occurred in a losing effort. On a fourth and 20, backed up deep in his own end zone, Rodgers evaded a ton of pressure and somehow managed to split prevent zone coverage with a laser to unheralded Jeff Janis (yup, I had never heard of him either). And then, two plays later, with no time left on the clock, Rodgers again managed to evade severe pressure and uncork, across his body, without his feet being set, another bomb that again found the hands of Janis, despite very solid coverage from three defenders. Just like against Detroit, Rodgers’ Hail Mary had been answered. We were going to overtime.

“Momentum” is an amorphous and ill-defined concept, as Bill Barnwell loves to say. But at this point, you figured that any and all momentum was with the Packers, who had stormed back to tie a game that they really shouldn’t have been able to stretch this far. As far as I was concerned, this game was already on par with the wild 51-45 shootout that Arizona and Green Bay were involved in the last time they met in the playoffs.

After some requisite coin toss controversy (what playoff overtime game would be complete without some coin toss shenanigans?), on the very first play in overtime Larry Fitzgerald took a throwback pass on a broken play and burst into the open field, rumbling 75 yards right off the bat. The game was over on a shovel pass two plays later. After one of the most dramatic finishes ever observed in regulation, the overtime period was over in just over a minute.

I’ve long detested the NFL overtime rule, especially in its older form when the team that got the ball first could string together a good kickoff return and a few middling plays and kick a field goal to win before the other team ever touched the ball. The move towards both teams possessing the ball unless a team scored a touchdown first was certainly a step in the right direction.

But there are still improvements to be made — truth be told, I am still a little bitter that Rodgers did not have a chance to answer Fitzgerald with a drive of his own. For all its flaws, college football’s overtime system is inarguably fairer. Every team has a chance to succeed and fail on both offense and defense, which seems to be more in line with the spirit of football as a complete and balanced game.

The NFL’s typical defense in situations like this is to say that this is the way things have always been done, but that is a poor excuse for sticking to the status quo. College football overtimes are dramatic, exciting and fair, a combination of adjectives that are pleasing to teams and fans alike. Bring said rules to the NFL! Somewhere out there, Aaron Rodgers and countless players are agreeing with me.


Argue with Vignesh Venkataraman over — had Rodgers led the Packers to that overtime win and ended up in the Super Bowl against, say, his beloved Patriots — who would’ve been the MVP at viggy ‘at’

Vignesh Venkataraman (or Viggy, if you prefer) writes weekly columns for the Daily, unless he forgets. He is a computer science and mechanical engineering double major, with an unofficial minor in watching sports. Born in Boston but raised in Cupertino, CA, Vignesh is a diehard New England Patriots fan and has adopted the Golden State Warriors as his favorite basketball team. He was the backup quarterback for his high school football team and called Stanford football games on KZSU in 2014.

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