Time for NFL coaches to eschew playing for field goals in OT
Washington Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins (3) walks off the field after an NFL Football game between Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins at Wembley Stadium in London, Sunday Oct. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
An old adage in college football has been ''never play for a field goal.''
It might be time for the pros to take heed.
Particularly in overtime.
Article continues below ...
For the first time in 19 years, the NFL has had two ties in a season. On consecutive weekends, no less, and punctuated by poor placekicking. It nearly was three draws, including a pair on Sunday, which would have been a league first. But Oakland knocked off Tampa Bay with 1:45 remaining in overtime by avoiding a field goal try and throwing for the winning points.
Ties are strange creatures in the NFL, and coaches tend to be unsure how to avoid them. Should they be aggressive or conservative in the extra session? How do you use the clock? Most importantly, when do you strategize for a winning kick?
Maybe the answer to that one is simply never.
Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll were burned by that approach in the 6-6 deadlock between Arizona and Seattle last weekend. On Sunday, in a 27-27 tie in London between Washington and Cincinnati that was one of the most watchable games of a mostly pedestrian 2016 season so far, the Redskins got scorched by a field goal failure in OT. The Bengals had their kicking woes in regulation.
''I need to make those kicks, bottom line,'' said Dustin Hopkins , who hooked a 34-yarder in OT seconds after his successful kick was negated because Cincinnati called a timeout. ''I try my very best every time I go out, and that's kind of the only standard I can hold myself to. Obviously, I expect more from myself. I can't expect anything more from these guys. They played their heart out, so I'm disappointed for them.''
Just as disappointing as the botched kicks by Hopkins or Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro or Seattle's Steven Hauschka is the uncertainty on the part of Arians, Carroll, Washington's Jay Gruden and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis for handling overtime. Gruden even facetiously suggested he and his players didn't know games could end in ties.
''I don't know how to react,'' Gruden said. ''I didn't think it was possible to tie. I know there was a tie last week in Arizona, but I was like, `How the heck did they tie?'
''Now we know.''
Draws – yes, a nod to the 27-27 affair in England – also confuse the playoff tiebreakers. All four of the teams who played ties this month made the playoffs last year. If they become contenders again, well, good luck figuring out all the permutations.
While those ties were packed with drama, they weren't necessarily filled with strong play. It's generally true that defenses get worn down quicker than offenses in the NFL, and that looked particularly true of the Bengals on Sunday. They were spared defeat as much by mistakes by Washington as anything.
On the other hand, in the Cardinals-Seahawks prime tie last Sunday, the play of both defenses ranged from stingy to spectacular. Sure, there was some clunky offense, but much of it was caused by the likes of Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson.
There's also the issue of exhaustion. A 60-minute game, especially if it's close and extremely physical, usually leads to underwhelming overtimes. While the situations have improved with the current rule that, barring an immediate touchdown both teams must get a possession, the coin toss to begin OT still has too big a role. The team going on offense first has a huge edge – witness the Cowboys' victory Sunday night against Philadelphia.
While the NFL is loath to copy nearly anything the colleges originated, perhaps something similar to their OTs would provide a more level playing field. One thing it would ensure is no more ties.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL