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NFL owners OK change in playoff overtime rules

New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley (5) kicks

New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley (5) kicks the game-winning field goal during overtime in the NFC Championship football game against the Minnesota Vikings. (January 24, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

ORLANDO, Fla. - Sudden-death overtime has taken a sudden twist in the NFL.

With an increasing number of overtime games being won by the team that wins the coin toss, owners Tuesday took a step toward addressing that trend by approving a measure to modify the overtime rules for the playoffs.

The new system, which eventually could be approved for regular-season games, will not automatically end a game if the receiving team kicks a field goal on its first possession of overtime. Here's how it will work:

After a coin toss, the receiving team will win if it scores a touchdown on its first possession. However, if the receiving team kicks a field goal, the opponent will get a possession.

If that team scores a field goal, the next team to score will win. If that team does not score on its possession, the team scoring the field goal on the opening possession wins.

The team that kicks off in overtime also will win on a defensive touchdown or safety on the first possession.

Regular-season overtime will retain the traditional sudden-death format, with the first team to score the winner. A game ends in a tie if neither team scores in a 15-minute overtime. However, owners will further discuss the matter and could decide by late May to include all overtime games under the newly adopted playoff format.

"There was a lot of sentiment in the room to change this rule in the regular season," competition committee chairman Rich McKay said. "The idea was to go back, study it and then come back to use it. It might be in May, or next year, or whenever. I think people acknowledged that this system, from a numerical standpoint, needed to be changed."

The vote was 28-4 in favor, with a minimum of 24 votes needed for passage. The Giants and Jets voted in favor. Jets owner Woody Johnson and coach Rex Ryan had expressed a desire not to change the system, but Johnson was sufficiently swayed at yesterday's meetings to vote with the majority.

Voting against were the Vikings, Bills, Bengals and Ravens. The Vikings lost to the Saints on a field goal on the first possession of overtime in last season's NFC Championship Game.

"We have discussed proposals about overtime over the last several years, and the more you saw the statistics, the more it became obvious we really needed to do something," said Colts president Bill Polian, a competition committee member. "Once we got here and began to discuss it with people and explain it to them, many more people said we're concerned this is a problem."

After overtime was introduced to the regular season in 1974, there was an even split in teams that won the coin toss and won the game. However, when kickoffs were moved from the 35-yard line to the 30 in 1994, the statistics began to swing in favor of the team that won the toss.

From 1994-2009, 146 of 244 (59.8 percent) overtime games were won by the team that won the toss, while 94 (38.5 percent) were won by the one that lost the toss. Four ended in a tie.

Since 1958, there have been 27 overtime games in the playoffs, with teams that won the toss going 13-14. In the 14 playoff overtime games since 1994, teams winning the toss are 7-7.

Because the regular-season statistical sample is so much larger, the competition committee decided to use it as a guide.

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