How Does NFL Overtime Work?

how does nfl overtime work

With American Football games being four quarters set to fifteen-minute intervals, sometimes a game needs additional time to decide a winner. The extra time during a football is overtime. So how does the NFL overtime work, what are the rules, and what famous games took place during overtime in history? Find out more below!


How does NFL Overtime Work?

If an NFL game is tied after four quarters, the game goes into an overtime period to try and find a winner. Overtime has specific rules depending on whether it’s during the regular season or the playoffs. These different rules impact how the game will ultimately end and which team is the winner.


What are the NFL’s Overtime Rules?

The NFL has several rules for overtime, depending on what time of the year it is in the football season. The regular season rules allow the game to end in a tie if neither team scores in the extra period. In the postseason, however, games will always end with a winner. Also, overtime is eliminated during the preseason to limit opportunities for injury before the regular season.


Regular Season Overtime Rules

In the regular season and the postseason, overtime starts with a coin toss to decide who gets the ball first. After the coin toss, there’s a 10-minute period. The game will end based on sudden-death rules, which means that the first team to score wins.


The only exception to this rule is if the team with the first possession drives down and scores a field goal, the game continues for the other team. The sudden-death rules will apply if the opposing team scores a field goal after opening the next offensive drive. The game ends in a tie if no one has scored at the end of the period.


In addition to these rules about scoring, each team will get two timeouts. The NFL prohibits coaches from challenging calls during overtime. The replay official can only review and overturn plays during the 10 minutes.


Overtime Rules in the NFL Playoffs

overtime rules in the nfl playoffs

Since playoff games can’t end in a tie, the most significant difference between overtime in the regular season and the postseason is that there can be multiple overtime periods at the end of the game. There is a two-minute intermission between each overtime.


At the start of the second overtime, the captain who lost the coin toss at the beginning of the first overtime can decide where they want to receive the ball or which end zone they wish to defend. This back and forth continues until the fourth overtime expires, at which time there will be another overtime coin toss, and play will continue until there is a winner.


How Can a Team Win in Overtime?

how can a NFL team win in overtime

In most overtime situations, the game ends after the first score of the period. This winning score can be from a touchdown, an interception converted to a touchdown, or a safety. The only exception is if the first drive of the period ends in a field goal. In this case, there will be a kickoff, and sudden-death play will start.


Sudden death rules significantly depart from the college football overtime format, which allows each team to score. In this ruleset, the overtime ends only when a team doesn’t score to match the points gained on the previous drive.


Famous Overtime Games in the NFL

The Longest Game in NFL History took place between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day in 1971. That game went to two overtime periods and ended after 82 minutes and 40 seconds of play. At that time, the NFL rulebook dictated that overtime comprised of 15-minute periods. The league instituted a rule change in 2017 that reduced overtime to 10-minute periods.


The sudden-death rules came under fire in the AFC Championship game in 2019, when Tom Brady’s New England Patriots scored a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on the opening drive of the period. Patrick Mahomes, the opposing quarterback, didn’t touch the ball before the game ended. This chain of events caused many people to petition pro football to adopt college football overtime rules.


The first Super Bowl to end in overtime was Super Bowl LI. The New England Patriots scored 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons to send the game into extra time. The Patriots then won the coin toss opted to receive the ball first. They marched the ball down the field on the opening possession and scored a touchdown, winning by six.


Conclusion on How Does an NFL Overtime Work

An NFL overtime period decides a game that is tied at the end of regulation. There are different rules for overtime depending on whether it’s a playoff or regular-season game. If the match occurs during the regular season, there will be only one 10-minute overtime period, with the game ending in a tie if unresolved. However, teams will continue to play during the postseason until a winner is declared.


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