The evolution of the overtime rule in the NFL is as follows:

  • 1941 — Sudden-death rule was added for divisional playoff games (at the time, these were one-game playoffs to break a division tie to advance to the NFL title game)
  • 1946 — Sudden-death was extended to the championship game to avoid co-champions (first put into effect 11 years later)
  • 1974 — A single sudden-death period was added for regular season and preseason games.
  • 2010 — A “modified sudden death” that extended the overtime past a first-possession field goal.
  • 2012 — Modified sudden death implemented for regular season and preseason games, except that no more than one period would be played.
  • 2017 — Overtime in regular season and preseason games was reduced to 10 minutes.

There were also special provisions for certain exhibition games to have a sudden-death overtime before 1974, and the first NFL overtime game actually was in the 1955 preseason, three years before “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Under the modified sudden-death system, the overtime period is extended if there is a field goal on the first possession. In that case, the scoring team kicks off to the opponent for a chance to equalize or beat the score. If the second team ties the game without losing possession, then on the ensuing kickoff, the tie will be broken by the next score, regardless.

There is only one 10-minute overtime period in the preseason and the regular season; the game will end in a tie if neither team is ahead. Postseason overtime will continue until a winner is decided.

The first possession is actually defined as “the opportunity to possess,” so if the receiving team does not get possession of the opening kickoff in overtime, it has lost the opportunity to possess. Also, if there is a double change of possession on the same play (offense recovers the ball after a change), the second team has had its opportunity to possess.

Overtime games with a first-possession field goal, 2012-2017

These are overtime games that continued past the first-possession field goal. There have not been any postseason overtime games that utilized this rule.

Extra plays are the number of plays after the first FG in overtime. It includes kickoffs and all scrimmage plays except for snap-killing fouls. Altered result compares what the conventional sudden-death result would have been to the actual result; a dash indicates that there was no change.

Date Final score FG 1st poss 2nd & additional poss Extra plays Altered result
9/9/2012 MIN 26–JAX 23 MIN JAX downs 5
9/23/2012 TEN 44–DET 41 TEN DET downs[] 10
10/21/2012 NE 29–NYJ 26 NE NYJ fumble[] 8
11/18/2012 HOU 43–JAX 37 HOU JAX FG
HOU TD
10 HOU win by FG→TD
(12 total pts[] in OT)
11/24/2013 MIN 26–GB 26 GB MIN FG
3 punts followed
34 GB win→TIE
12/29/2013 SD 27–KC 24 SD KC downs 7
10/12/2014 JAX 37–CIN 37 CIN JAX FG
CIN missed FG
JAX no 2nd poss
24 CIN win→TIE[]
10/27/2014 WAS 20–DAL 17 WAS DAL downs 5
9/13/2015 STL 34–SEA 31 STL SEA downs 8
11/1/2015 TB 23–ATL 20 TB ATL downs 6
11/2/2015 CAR 29–IND 26 IND CAR FG
IND int
CAR FG
17 IND win→loss
CAR 6-1→7-0, part of 18-win streak, 14 consecutive wins in season[§]
12/6/2015 NYJ 23–NYG 20 NYJ NYG missed FG 9
12/24/2015 OAK 23–SD 20 OAK SD downs 5
12/28/2015 DEN 20–CIN 17 DEN CIN fumble 3
10/23/2016 SEA 6–AZ 6 AZ SEA FG
AZ missed FG
SEA missed FG
28 AZ win→TIE[]
SEA #4 seed→#3 seed (head-to-head loss to GB)
11/27/2016 KC 30–DEN 27 DEN KC FG
DEN missed FG
KC FG
 26 DEN win→loss
KC #5 seed→#2 seed
OAK #2 & first-round bye→#5 seed
1/1/2017 PIT 27–CLE 24 CLE PIT TD 10 CLE win→loss
10/1/2017 AZ 18–SF 15 SF AZ TD[Δ] 10 SF win→loss
  1. [∗]Replay of final play upheld
  2. [†]Highest number of points that can be scored in overtime
  3. [‡]Highest scoring tie game in NFL history
  4. [§]No impact on seeds, as CAR clinched #1 seed by 2 games
  5. [¶]Lowest scoring tie game in NFL history since 11/5/72 (PHI-STLCards, 6-6) and the lowest regulation score (3-3) since 11/7/40 (NYG-DET, 0-0).
  6. [Δ]First extended possession since the implementation of the 10-minute overtime rule

Photo: Green Bay Packers