Why don't new OT rules apply for the regular season, too?

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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NFL rules will keep evolving through the eras.  These new overtime rules will improve, too. (US Presswire)  
NFL rules will keep evolving through the eras. These new overtime rules will improve, too. (US Presswire)  

Now that we've gotten a glimpse of the NFL playoff rules for overtime, I have one question: Why don't we have them for the regular season too?

It's the same complaint I voiced when the league adopted the new rules prior to the 2010 season, with general managers then saying how equitable the new standards would be.

I agree, though it's hard to know when your first trial lasts one play and all of 11 seconds. But in that brief moment, I think most of us got the idea. The rules make it fair for both teams.

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Had Pittsburgh just done what it's done all year -- which is make a defensive stop, or at the least hold Denver to a field goal -- it would have had an opportunity to win the game on offense.

You can't expect much more than that.

Except you can. You can ask for the rule to extend to the regular season. I mean, if it's so good that it is enforced when games are their most meaningful, why isn't it enforced for the entire season?

The NFL didn't have an answer when it adopted the rule, and I doubt it has one now. It just seems to me that if you're going to make a change, and it's to cover the most significant part of the season, why wouldn't you extend that coverage to the entire year?

"You need consistency of the regular season and the postseason," Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf said at the 2010 March meetings.

I'll second that.

Essentially, what the league seems to suggest is that the preceding games -- all 16 of them -- aren't as important and thus don't merit its new and improved system. Try selling that to the NFL's 32 head coaches. All I know is that if you don't successfully navigate regular-season contests, you don't qualify for the playoffs -- which means you don't have an opportunity to do what Pittsburgh and Denver did Sunday.

The Broncos knew what they were up against, which is one reason they attacked Pittsburgh on the opening series of OT. They understood that if they were aggressive -- if somehow they could drive the length of the field and find the end zone -- they could clinch the victory right then and there, without allowing Ben Roethlisberger a chance to respond.

What they didn't know is that they would do it in one play.

Of course, the Steelers knew what they were up against too. They stacked the line of scrimmage, hoping to shut down Denver's running game, force Tim Tebow to throw and, hopefully, shut down the never-say-die Broncos. If they were successful, the job was simple: They could win with a field goal and advance to the next round of the playoffs.

And that's what I like about the new rules. They give both clubs a chance, but they force them to rethink their strategies. Granted, we saw them work for only one play, but in that one play we saw the beauty of this thing. The rules can force offenses to be aggressive to close out opponents, pushing them to score a touchdown as Denver did and win the game on one series ... or they can compel defenses to attack the line as Pittsburgh did, hoping to stuff the run and force opponents out of their comfort zones.

The knock on previous overtime rules, of course, was that they were structured to favor teams with accurate kickers, particularly kickers with strong legs. So a team that took the opening kickoff might not have to mount a drive longer than 40 or 45 yards to win the game, which somehow didn't seem right.

Nowhere would that have been more accurate than in the thin air of Denver, where Matt Prater earlier this year tied a game with 59-yard field goal and where Jason Elam tied the league record with a 63-yarder.

But a field goal wasn't going to work for Denver … not unless the Broncos wanted to give Roethlisberger a chance to beat them. So they went for broke, and mission accomplished. It made for the most riveting moment of the weekend and one of the most memorable of recent playoffs.

So, now, let's get back to my original question, which is: Why can't we see this work beyond the playoffs? You don't have a separate set of rules governing penalties for the regular season and the playoffs. So why do we have a separate set of rules governing post-season overtimes?

It makes no sense. Teams prepare for one thing during the regular season, then prepare for something else afterward.

We had a brief glimpse of that something else, and I like it. So do what's right and make the rule uniform … so the next time referees like Ron Winter don't have to spend time educating players, coaches and a nationwide audience as to what we're about to witness.

Only because they haven't seen it before.

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