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Analysis: 2 ties down, NFL should expect more in 2018

The Associated Press
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In this Sept. 9, 2018 file photo, Cleveland Browns defensive back Damarious Randall (23) tackles Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James (81) during the first half of an NFL football game in Cleveland. In a slopfest of an opener, the Steelers and Browns drew 21-21.

Two weeks, two ties.

OK, let’s get this out of the way now: Yes, the NFL is fit to be tied.

Fit tighter than most folks might think, too.

In a slopfest of an opener, the Steelers and Browns drew 21-21 . The first game of the season often can be messy and painful to watch, particularly when so many key players don’t take the field much, if at all, in preseason. This one was all of that, even if a tie was a big step in the right direction for Cleveland, which lost 31 of 32 contests entering this season.

Yet the Browns sounded more angry with the deadlock than did the Steelers.

“There’s no way that we shouldn’t have won this game,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We didn’t win. It is all about winning. Nobody cares about draws or ties, whatever you guys call it. We were in a (position) to win this game countless times. We just have to make the plays.”

A week later, in a more artistic affair — minus the ugly kicking by the now-released Daniel Carlson for Minnesota — the Vikings and Packers finished 29-29. Like the other tie, it was a divisional game. Unlike the other one, both of these clubs should be in the playoff hunt.

So assessing a draw left them perplexed.

“I don’t know what to feel after a tie,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “It’s a unique place to be and proud of the way that the whole team — when I say the team, the coaching staff, the players, the support staff — the way everybody stayed in it and fought. There were times where we thought we should have won it, there were times the Packers feel like they should have won it. And it was a great game, and unfortunately we didn’t get the win.”

Green Bay’s reactions were similar.

“It’s gross,” kicker Mason Crosby offered. “I don’t like it. Obviously, you hate losing. A tie is just weird. You just don’t get them a lot.”

Ah, but you just might this season. Two in two weeks could be a harbinger.

The NFL reduced the length of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 before last season. Stunningly, there were no ties.

But the odds of more results without a winner are vastly increased. And league executives understood that when they made the change.

“What it came down to was really a player safety discussion,” said Dean Blandino, head of the league’s officiating department when the rule change was made in 2017 and now an NFL analyst for Fox. “The year prior to change, you had several games that went the full overtime periods and ended in a tie, or a game ended on a field goal at the last second. That’s an additional however many plays in that game. We had one instance when a team had to come back on Thursday night and play, so that’s a very short week for rest and then playing again.

“So we asked, ‘Are we pushing our players to play an extra quarter and having to come back, creating a chance for more injuries?’

“Yes the potential for more ties would be there in a shorter overtime, but the members of the (competition) committee and the owners didn’t think a tie was necessarily a bad thing.”

Maybe yes, maybe no. But are the alternatives worthwhile?

The NFL could adopt the college rule (won’t ever happen), which detractors have said is like having a home run derby decide a tied baseball game; too much of the natural game is eliminated. So is the sudden death element, although even that has been diluted by the current NFL overtime rule in which the team receiving the kickoff must score a touchdown for the game to end immediately.

Not that we are advocating for getting rid of that and returning to the coin toss being even more instrumental in deciding a game.

The option of continuing to play until there is a winner doesn’t work in the regular season for a variety of reasons. Player safety — player exhaustion — is the main reason, but there are broadcast considerations on a busy Sunday afternoon, too. And fan comfort, particularly in Lambeau or Soldier Field or Gillette Stadium in December.

The NFL also senses that with the shorter overtime, teams will attack more during the extra period. That seems to have been the case at Lambeau Field last Sunday. In the other tie, play was so chaotic it was difficult to tell if either side had a plan for winning.

“There were a lot of things discussed and on the table,” Blandino said of competition committee meetings about overtime. “This goes back if you look prior to 2012, the coin toss was such a big part of OT. We had less ties under that system; just, look at the stats from 1994-2011, and there were only four ties. Since 2012 and the chance to have both teams getting possession, in the next five years, we had five ties in that period.”

And in 2018, we already have two. Get ready for more.

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