By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots won a huge playoff game in overtime on Sunday night. It took all of five minutes for people to start complaining.
The reason for that is threefold. First and foremost, boy oh boy are people tired of seeing the Patriots win. Secondly, the NFL’s overtime rules remain a point of contention for many fans. And lastly, when you combine those two factors — the Patriots winning plus the overtime rules — then you have got yourself a powder keg for whining.
This has happened before, back when Tom Brady led the miracle comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. So it was not at all surprising to see the reaction to Sunday night’s incredible 37-31 win in Kansas City.
From far and wide, angry folks fired up Twitter to let the world know that BOTH TEAMS SHOULD GET THE BALL IN OVERTIME, THIS ISN’T FAIR!!!!!
There were many, many more from the non-blue check mark crowd too, and the gist was this: A coin flip decided the game. Patrick Mahomes never got to play. Imagine LeBron never playing in OT!
THE CHIEFS NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO SCORE!
Look, there’s no right and wrong when it comes to matters of opinion.
That being said, these people are wrong.
The idea that both teams should be given possession of the football is a flawed concept, for one notable reason.
That reason is this: The game is called “football.” It is not called “offense.” It is not called “quarterbacking.” It is called football.
And the sport of football requires three distinct units — offense, defense, and special teams — to function in concert. The team that utilizes its offense, defense and special teams the best is the team that more often than not wins the game.
So to say that Team A “never had a chance” to score is to ignore the very fundamental basis of the sport.
Take Sunday night, for example. When the Patriots faced a third-and-10 at their own 35-yard line, the Chiefs had their chance to score. Instead, they opted to leave Julian Edelman — the most prolific, clutch postseason receiver the world has ever seen — like this:
The Chiefs had a chance. They blew it.
But it wasn’t their only chance. Three plays later. Another third-and-10. This time, Edelman moved left in a short motion pre-snap. The Chiefs were caught flat-footed, and putting a single man on Edelman proved in just one step to be a bad choice. Edelman was left wide open for a gain of 15:
Another chance for the Chiefs to get the ball. Another blown opportunity.
BUT IT ISN’T FAIR! Imagine the home team never getting to bat!
(The pitching team in baseball has no opportunity to score, knucklehead.)
Still — still! — the Chiefs had more chances. The Patriots were only at the 30-yard line. A field goal from there was no gimme, not on this cold night. And holding the Patriots to a field goal would have — lo and behold — given possession to the Chiefs.
The Chiefs were very much alive at this point. All they needed was to finally make a stop.
Instead, they left Rob Gronkowski i single coverage on the outside against a safety who missed most of the season with a heel injury. Was that unfair, too?
Gronkowski cut in on a slant and was wide open. Brady fit in a bullet, and the Patriots picked up another 15 yards.
That’s three — count ’em, three! — conversions on third-and-10. The Chiefs failed spectacularly all three times.
And yet — AND YET! — they still had more opportunities.
The Patriots were at the 15-yard line. Again, holding New England to a field goal would have given the ball to Mahomes, the thing that seemingly all of the football-watching world needed to see.
Instead of coming up with a stop, though, the porous Chiefs defense allowed Rex Burkhead to sprint up the gut for 10 yards.
On the next play, he picked up three yards.
And on the next play — the 13th play of the drive — Burkhead toppled over the goal line.
The Patriots won.
Everyone was mad.
They were wrong.
In overtime, both the Chiefs and the Patriots had chances to win the game. But only one team was able to execute on the most critical snaps.
And that’s only addressing the overtime aspect of the game. The Chiefs took a four-point lead with 2:06 left in the game. All they had to do was defend the end zone at the end of regulation, and nobody would have to talk about the overtime rules.
Instead, the Chiefs allowed 65 yards on six plays. Cordarrelle Patterson returned the kick 38 yards. (Special teams play: it counts as part of football. Look it up!) Edelman picked up 20 yards on the first play. Chris Hogan nearly had an incredible catch, but replay review overturned it. Not fair!
Kansas City’s Dee Ford lined up offside, negating what would most likely have been a game-sealing interception. The Chiefs then allowed a 25-yard catch by Gronkowski, also in double coverage against Eric Berry, before allowing Burkhead to score easily from the 4-yard line.
Was that drive unfair? Or was it football?
That’s the football aspect of it. There’s also the reality aspect of it. Mike Sando of ESPN blasted out these numbers after the game, in anticipation of the outcry. These numbers are beautiful:
RECORD FOR TEAMS THAT WIN COIN TOSS IN OT, SINCE 2012
22-28-3 (.443) on road
33-22-4 (.593) at home
56-50-7 (.527) overall
OVERALL WIN PERCENTAGES, ALL GAMES, SINCE 2012
.422 on road
.578 at home
The winner of the coin toss wins the game 52.7 percent of the time. If you can see that number and still say “a coin toss decides the game,” then you are not being honest with yourself. And you should always be honest with yourself.
And here’s an interesting wrinkle: In the much-beloved college overtime system, the team that possesses the ball second wins the game at a 54.9 percent rate. Hey — that’s better than the coin toss winner! What tomfoolery is afoot?!
Though, another study says it’s 52.1 percent. Yet another study says it’s 55 percent. While raw data should not be open to such variabilities, you get the idea: college’s OT system ain’t any more “fair” than the NFL’s.
For evidence of a game where the coin toss didn’t “decide” the game, as these football simpletons would have you believe, could have been found … why, yes. It could have been found about three hours earlier, in New Orleans, in the NFC championship. The Saints got absolutely hosed by terrible officiating at the end of regulation, but they could have made it a footnote for a championship season after they won the coin toss in overtime.
Instead, Drew Brees threw an interception.
The Rams didn’t complain about “not having a chance” to get the football. Instead, they went out and got the football. Then they won the game.
To be fair, the overtime system is not fair. That’s because nothing in sports is fair. Nothing is given to you in sports, and especially in football. You have to earn it. And someone has to get the football to begin the overtime period. Short of an XFL-style violent footrace to a loose football, there’s not an inherently “fair” way to determine the first possession.
But crying about the rules? Saying the Chiefs never had a chance? That’s just simply wrong. The Chiefs had plenty of chances in overtime, and in the Patriots’ final offensive drive of regulation. They blew every single one of them.
The fact that the Patriots won — again — was no coincidence.