Pictures from the Buccaneers' OTA practice on Tuesday.
When the NFL was debating a shorter overtime during the league meetings in March, one specific situation was offered as a disadvantage that needed to be eliminated: a team playing a long fifth period on a Sunday afternoon four days before playing a Thursday night game.
That exact situation happened to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016. On October 30, the Sunday of NFL Week Eight, the Buccaneers went to overtime with the Oakland Raiders. The two teams battled through five possessions and took the extra period into its final two minutes before Oakland won on a 41-yard touchdown catch by Seth Roberts. Four days later, the Atlanta Falcons came to town for a Thursday night matchup that would have big implications in the NFC South race. Tampa Bay's defense, likely still feeling the fatigue of playing 94 snaps on Sunday, had trouble slowing down Atlanta's league-best offense and lost, 43-28.
READ: TAKEAWAYS FROM OTAs[
](http://www.buccaneers.com/news/article-1/5-Takeaways-from-OTAs-May-23/1c023d99-c493-4097-baef-22ece946d967)Defensively, the story of the Bucs' 2016 season was the turnaround that began in Week 10, leading to a five-game winning streak. Tampa Bay ranked sixth in points allowed and first in turnovers over the second half of the season, an accomplishment that looked all the more remarkable given that it had surrendered a total of 1,067 yards and 73 points in that Oakland-Atlanta two-fer. In retrospect, the Buccaneer defense probably should have been given a little bit more benefit of the doubt considering the difficult situation into which it was put.
Also, in the most literal of senses, if this rule had been in place last year, the Oakland game would have ended in a tie and the Buccaneers' final record for 2016 would have been 9-6-1 instead of 9-7. That would have been good enough to give them the final Wild Card spot over Detroit.
On Tuesday, with another round of league meetings underway in Chicago, the NFL not only revived that overtime discussion, which was tabled in Phoenix in March, but voted to pass the rule change. Overtime periods will now last a maximum of 10 minutes instead of 15. Given what happened to the Buccaneers last year, we should be happy about this, right?
Well, sort of.
The first thing to understand is that the impetus for this rule was to protect the players from exactly the sort of situation described above. (Of course, eliminating Thursday night games would do that more effectively, but that's another discussion.) In that regard, as Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted on Tuesday, it's hard to be too strongly opposed to the idea.
"The NFL has invested a lot of time and money into player safety, and their research shows that this is aimed at player safety," said Koetter. "I think the analytics show that this will only create 1.2% more ties per season. So when you look at it like that, it maybe isn't the biggest deal in the world. But they spend so much time and money on player safety that it's geared at that and how can anybody argue with that."
I'm not sure, however, that the method being used to estimate how many more ties this change will create is taking into account all the potential factors. Basically, that figure quoted by Koetter is the percentage of overtime games that have historically gone past the 10-minute mark. Koetter hints to the potential flaw in this logic by noting that when teams go into an overtime period knowing that it will only last 10 minutes, they will not necessarily approach it the same way they would a 15-minute quarter. In other words, some of those previous games that went 11 or 12 minutes deep into overtime might have been decided at the seven or eight minute mark instead by more aggressive strategizing.
"I think the thing in that overtime that's not getting talked about is, teams are going to play different now," said Koetter. "It's a 10-minute clocks. Teams aren't just going to say, 'Oh, 10 minutes, let's settle for a tie.' The last two minutes of that 10 minutes will be like the last two minutes of [regulation]. Teams are going to go for the win as opposed to going for the tie."
Using the Bucs-Raiders game from last year as an example, Oakland started its second possession of overtime almost exactly five minutes into the period. The drive lasted nine plays and got across midfield but the Raiders elected to punt from Tampa Bay's 43, facing a fourth-and-seven with 4:44 left on the clock. Under the new rules, time would have already ran out. Chances are, the Raiders would have approached that drive more aggressively with the clock running out. For instance, Oakland snapped the ball on a first-and-10 at the Bucs' 46 with 7:31 left on the clock and ran the ball for a one-yard loss. On a 10-minute clock, there would have been only 2:31 left. More aggressive play-calling might have led to an Oakland score, or perhaps a mistake that gave the Bucs a chance to win. If the 10-minute rule had been in place last year, the game wouldn't have necessarily ended in a tie, which means it wouldn't have necessarily made the difference between the playoffs and golf for the Buccaneers.
There's a famous Buccaneers-Falcons overtime game from the 2000s that chewed up nearly all of a 15-minute overtime on Christmas Eve day. This was Week 16 of the 2005 campaign, with Tampa Bay and Carolina fighting for the division title and Atlanta not far behind. The game went into overtime at Raymond James Stadium and the Bucs won the toss. Unfortunately, return man Edell Shepherd fumbled on the opening kickoff of sudden death, giving Atlanta an immediate shot at a quick game-ending field goal. Fortunately, defensive end Dewayne White blocked Todd Peterson's 28-yard kick and the Bucs' division-title hopes remained alive. Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant then missed a 27-yard potential game-winner and overtime dragged on.
The Falcons got the ball back at their own 16 with two minutes to play, went nowhere and faced a fourth-and-two at their 24 with one minute left. Atlanta's brain trust appeared to be unsure what a tie meant to their playoff livelihood and eventually chose to punt, knowing a failed fourth down would essentially hand the win to the Buccaneers. Thanks to a 28-yard punt return by Mark Jones, that was essentially the case anyway and Bryant won it with 19 seconds left on a 41-yard field goal. That win plus a Week 17 victory over New Orleans gave the Bucs an 11-5 record and a tiebreaker win for the division crown.
This kind of back-and-forth field position game in overtime would likely be reduced with a 10-minute clock. More aggressive play-calling could actually result in fewer ties. The question, of course, is whether or not that's an important goal. Players, coaches and fans may not like ties, but they aren't exactly the end of the world.
WATCH: TUESDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES
Of course, more aggressive play-calling – i.e., more passes and fewer clock-chewing runs, more no-huddles, etc. – might increase the number of snaps to the point that reducing the clock from 15 to 10 minutes doesn't actually reduce the amount of game action that much.
The other specter that has been raised since the notion of a 10-minute overtime was first floated is the possibility of a single clock-eating drive by the team that wins the coin toss. If one team successfully ate up most of the clock's 10 minutes on a field goal drive to start overtime, that would essentially circumvent the current rule that allows the other team a possession if the first drive doesn't end in a touchdown. Getting the ball back with 30 seconds to play might technically satisfy that rule, but it certainly wouldn't do so in the rule's spirit of fairness.
Fortunately, 10-minute drives are relatively rare; there have been about two per year since 2000, according to Pro Football Reference. However, there has never been a 15-minute drive, so this rule change does up the possibility of a single-possession overtime by some small degree.
For the record, the Buccaneers have played 37 overtime games in 41 seasons, or roughly one per campaign. Thirteen of those games, or roughly a third, were decided after 10 minutes of the extra period had elapsed. That includes, of course, the lone tie in team history, against Green Bay in 1980. However, even that number – 13 out of 37 – is extremely misleading. In eight of those 13 games, the eventual winning team was well within field goal range before 10 minutes had elapsed, but ran some additional plays to get a little closer. In reality, the new rule would only have had a big impact on five of the 37 overtime games in franchise history.
So it may not affect that many games, and it may not actually lead to more ties at all, given the possible strategy changes. In addition, the whole point is player safety, which is a worthwhile goal even if it creates a few more ties. If my reaction to the change is a little lukewarm, however, it's because I think it won't necessarily have that big of an impact on player safety. I imagine Tampa Bay defenders still would've have been fatigued in that Thursday night game against Atlanta last year, even with the new rule. Only five of the 94 snaps the Bucs' defenders played in that game came after the 10-minute mark of overtime.
The Chicago meetings created a few other rule changes. Let's take a quick look.
- Designated-for-Return Injured Reserve Spots Increased from One to Two
There's nothing not to like about this rule change. The NFL has gradually been making its injured reserve procedure better for the last few years.
First, in 2012, the league introduced the "designated for return" option, which allowed each team to put one player on IR but bring him back before the season was over. Previously, every player who landed on IR had to stay there for the rest of the year. This player had to be identified as the one the team would eventually bring back at the time he was put on injured reserve.
Last year, the league tweaked that rule so that you didn't have to designate which player was going to be allowed to return at the time he was put on the reserve list. In other words, the team could decide later in the season which of its injured players could come back to the active roster. The change made on Tuesday takes that same rule but gives each team two such options. That should allow greater flexibility in dealing with a list of injured players, which is a reality for every team every season.
So why not just make all injured reserve spots like this, so that if a player returns to full health before the season is over he can rejoin the team? That would be rolling back the clock to an era in which NFL teams would "stash" men with minor (or possibly "exaggerated") injuries on IR in order to be able to hold on to more players. The out-for-the-season rule was made specifically to end this practice. If you want to put a player on injured reserve despite the fact that he might not be hurt badly enough to be out for the whole year, well, you have to live with the fact that he's now unavailable to you.
My opinion: If injured reserve rules were rolled back to the way they were decades ago, teams would go right back to using the list to get a competitive advantage. Instead, the current method of giving teams one option – now two options – to bring a player back before the season's end is a good, common-sense middle ground.
- Restrictions Removed on Many Forms of Player Celebrations
Hallelujah. The league will no longer penalize players for using the football as a prop in celebrations, for celebrating in groups with their teammates or for actions that involve going to the ground (e.g. snow angels). This change is likely to be opposed by approximately nobody.
Anti-celebration rules are obviously aimed at creating good sportsmanship, and it's worth noting that any kind of celebration that is perceived to be taunting the other team can still be flagged. In addition, in the ongoing attempts to keep games from becoming too long, there is the concern that some celebrations could take up too much time. Again, players can still be flagged for delay of game if they decide to roll out a three-act play. And, personally, I'm fine with the continued ban on weapon imagery in celebrations.
Otherwise, let them have fun. Last year in Dallas, I was as amused as everyone else when Ezekiel Elliott jumped into the giant Salvation Army bucket, even though he was celebrating a touchdown against the Buccaneers. Football is entertainment, and that was entertaining without being vulgar or derogatory to the opponent. It was spontaneous and, yes, fun.
- Intermediate Roster Cut from 90 to 75 Eliminated
Well, I think the coaches will like this one. Previously, teams would be required to reduce their rosters from 90 players to 75 after the third preseason game, and then from 75 to 53 after the fourth preseason game. The obvious downside to this is that the final preseason game is devoted almost completely to reserves and roster hopefuls, so the exact players one would be letting go in the first round of cuts are the ones coaches want to play in Week Four.
Now they can. It will make for a much more hectic Labor Day weekend, with every team chopping their roster by 37 players at roughly the same time, but it will give some young prospects one more chance to make an impression. This rule makes things a little easier on coaches and a little tougher – or at least more compressed – on player personnel professionals. Overall, like the tweak to injured reserve, it's a common sense rule change that won't likely be met with much objection.