Tie goes to status quo

Updated: 3-19-09 6:05 a.m.

The outrage that followed the Bengals' longest game in history, which ended in a 13-13 tie against the Eagles last season in the first unresolved NFL game since 2002, hasn't been enough to force a change in the NFL's overtime system.

During a Wednesday conference call prepping the media for next week's NFL annual meeting, Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL competition committee, said the coin flip/sudden-death scenario has much support among the teams and players and no team and/or his committee has brought forth a proposal.

"There was no unanimity," McKay said. "There is great support for our system."

The depth of support for the rule that has been in place since 1974 took McKay and Ray Anderson, the NFL executive in charge of football operations, by surprise. Anderson said he was surprised at "how adamant the players were" about keeping it.

But the telltale signs were there the day following the game. Despite the admission by two of the game's most important offensive players that they didn't know the game could end in a tie, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and Bengals wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis indicated he wasn't for a change.

Lewis is a member of the competition committee that just returned from a week of meetings watching video and discussing potential new rules.


Lewis
"I wouldn't want to see any changes, actually, because they played long enough yesterday," Lewis had said. "There is no need to play any longer. You risk too much injury. We obviously have to turn around with a short week and so, that's difficult.

"Both teams played enough."

Of course, that was against a backdrop of the shortest week in Bengals history. They followed up their longest game ever on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium with a Thursday night game in Pittsburgh.

But the fact that no one has been able to grab a consensus for a way to change it in the wake of much fan and media criticism reflects Lewis' committee is in the mainstream of players and coaches.

McKay admitted some of the stats concern him, such as the fact that in 2008 the teams that won the toss in OT won 63 percent of the time and 43 percent of the time on the first possession. Coming into the season since the '74 switch to overtime, those numbers were 53 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively.

But McKay pointed to the average field-goal distance last year that won overtime games (37 yards).

"That means the team had to drive to at least the 20," he said, noting that meant a lot of games weren't being won on 55-yarders.

The Bengals bid to win the game in OT ended on Shayne Graham's miss slightly to the right from 47 yards with seven seconds left. Another oddity from Nov. 16 is that Graham had gone 90 games with the Bengals before getting his first shot in overtime.

One proposed change that figures to get passed when the owners meet in Dana Point, Calif., beginning Sunday does involve some Bengals discussion.

The blindside block by Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward that ended Bengals rookie linebacker Keith Rivers' season last year may be an illegal hit in 2009 if the committee's recommendation holds.

But only if you believe, like some Bengals do, that it was a helmet-to-helmet hit. On Wednesday, McKay, outlined some new safety guidelines and one of them sounds like a response to a play like the one Ward took out Rivers with what McKay said was a legal hit under 2008 rules.

The change involves penalizing a helmet-to-helmet hit in a blindside block.

"You can't block them in the head," said McKay, noting how wide receivers, tight ends, and some times offensive linemen block back up field after a play. "We prefer they block in the chest area."

Asked if Ward's hit on Rivers would be illegal in '09, McKay said, "That's a good question." Anderson said there was debate after looking at film if Ward used his shoulder or helmet.

He also said the Rivers-Ward play didn't spur the proposal and that several plays were viewed, including many special-teams plays in which players were vulnerable.

McKay also emphasized that several new safety guideless that have been proposed are not in reaction to an increase in injuries.

"Our injuries right now are in the historical range," McKay said. "It's not anything out of the ordinary."

The most noticeable proposed bylaw change is that when the ball comes loose when a quarterback is throwing, replay can determine if it is a fumble or an incomplete pass. The play was not reviewable last year.

Also to get discussed next week is a bylaw that changes the draft order in 2010. The committee's proposal remains the same for non-playoff teams at No. 1-20, which is based on record, with strength of schedule the tiebreaker. But from 21-32 the playoff teams will now be arranged by where the teams lose in the playoffs.

It can have a major impact. The Associated Press points out that this year the Colts lost in the playoffs to San Diego but choose 27th while San Diego has the 16th pick.

Also on the agenda is discussing moving to a 17- or 18-game regular-season schedule, but it doesn't sound like it is headed to a vote.

Most of the major issues are about safety. The committee recommends eliminating the bunch formation on onside kicks and wedges of three men or more blocking on kick returns. Any hits to the helmet of defenseless receivers (with their feet in the air) will be outlawed. Before, only helmet-to-helmet hits on the receiver had been forbidden.  

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