It was a playoff weekend for the ages, a divisional-round quartet of games all decided on the final play with drama dripping from every scream-inducing twist and turn — capped by a game that will be talked about for generations, with Kansas City beating the Bills in overtime on Patrick Mahomes’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. This after Mahomes drove his team 44 yards in 10 seconds to set up Harrison Butker’s 49-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into OT.
The game featured an astonishing four lead changes and 31 points scored from the two-minute warning to the overtime touchdown pass to Kelce.
It was football at its very best.
Believe it or not, it could have been even better.
There’s no need to put an asterisk next to the final result, but there is a need for the NFL to fix its overtime format.
Not that anything would have changed the outcome, but the fact that Josh Allen never got the chance to answer Mahomes’ touchdown pass in overtime is an issue that requires a rule change.
It’s the same thing that happened to Mahomes in his first appearance in the conference championship game against Tom Brady’s Patriots in the 2018 playoffs. In a remarkable game that went into overtime, Brady led New England to a touchdown on its first drive in the extra period in a 37-31 win.
Kansas City fans lamented the fact that Mahomes didn’t get a shot at matching the score, and team owner Clark Hunt proposed a rule change that would have awarded each team at least one possession in overtime regardless of whether the team that had the ball first scored a touchdown.
The idea behind a 2010 rule change was to lessen the impact of winning the coin toss because it had become so easy to drive for the winning field goal in OT. Owners instituted a reward for a team that scored a touchdown on its first possession or scored a defensive touchdown or safety.
But between then and now, offenses have become so good — in part because of quarterback play, but also because of rule changes skewed heavily away from defenses — that the coin toss has become the turning point before OT even begins.
You can argue that Buffalo’s defense, which had been the No. 1 unit during the regular season, should have done a better job against Kansas City. And that argument certainly is valid.
You also can argue that the Bills blew it in the final minute of regulation by not using a squib kick after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left. Kansas City might have tried to return that kick, wasting precious seconds and giving Mahomes less time. Then again, a Kansas City returner could have caught the ball and gone to the ground, which would have taken only one second off the clock
and still left Mahomes with two plays to get in position for the tying field goal.
The bottom line remains that Allen should have gotten one more shot at a chance to match Mahomes’ touchdown. After that, just have the teams play until the next score decides the winner. There still would be the sudden-death element of excitement to the outcome, but there also would be the fairness associated with a more equitable format.
Credit to Allen for not using the overtime rules as an excuse.
"The rules are what they are, and I can’t complain about that because if it was the other way around, we’d be celebrating, too," he said. "We didn’t make enough plays. They made one more play than we did. That’s what it came down to."
Mahomes knows from firsthand experience how dejected Allen was. He also now knows how elated Brady was when he led the Patriots in their spectacular overtime win in Kansas City four years ago.
As does Mahomes’ coach, Andy Reid.
"I had a chance to talk with Sean afterward," Reid said Monday of Bills coach Sean McDermott, "and that I’m sure is something they’re [rules committee] going to look at again, too. And I wouldn’t be opposed to it. It’s a hard thing. It was great for us last night, but is it great for the game, which is the most important thing we should all be looking out for? To make things equal, it probably needs to be able to hit both offenses, both defenses."
There have been other walk-off touchdowns in OT: Tim Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas against the Steelers in 2011. The Seahawks’ opening-drive touchdown against Green Bay in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. And the most famous walk-off TD of all: Brady’s overtime drive against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, as the Patriots completed a remarkable comeback from a 28-3 deficit in a 34-28 win.
These are not just aberrations. These are part of a definitive — and disturbing — trend. Consider: Since the overtime rules were changed in 2010, there have been 11 playoff games that went to OT. Ten of the 11 teams to win the coin toss won the game.
Would changing the format take some of the drama out of the game? Not necessarily. Just as the last rule change required some adjustment for fans, the same would hold true if teams had a chance to match a first-drive touchdown with a possession.
No excuses from Allen, who knew the rule. Now there’s no excuses for the NFL, which needs to change the format and make its already splendid product — the one that delivered four remarkable games over the weekend — even better.