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.
  • 2021 — Eliminate overtime in the preseason
  • 2022 — Both teams guaranteed possession in the postseason only, except if the first possession ends in a safety.

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 a postseason game, it will be extended for a first-possession touchdown as well.) 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 regular season; the game will end in a tie if neither team is ahead. Postseason overtime will continue until a winner is decided, but each overtime period would be 15 minutes.

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 (muffed catch, successful onside kick), 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. A double change of possession will end the game if the second team is driving.

Overtime games that continued beyond the first score

These are overtime games that continued past the first-possession score. There have not been any postseason overtime games that utilized this rule, and the guaranteed possession rule for the postseason takes effect in 2022.

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. To borrow baseball terminology, a SAVE is indicated when the score was re-tied in overtime and the first-scoring team won the game, which has happened twice.

1st scoring team won

1st scoring team lost

Game finished tied

18

8

4

 

Date Final score 1st poss 2nd & additional poss Extra plays Altered result
9/9/2012 MIN 26–JAX 23 MIN FG JAX downs 5
9/23/2012 TEN 44–DET 41 TEN FG DET downs1Replay of final play upheld 10
10/21/2012 NE 29–NYJ 26 NE FG NYJ fumble1Replay of final play upheld 8
11/18/2012 HOU 43–JAX 37 HOU FG JAX FG
HOU TD
10 HOU SAVE
(12 total pts2Highest number of points that can be scored in regular-season overtime in OT)
11/24/2013 MIN 26–GB 26 GB FG MIN FG
3 punts followed
34 GB win→TIE
12/29/2013 SD 27–KC 24 SD FG KC downs 7
10/12/2014 JAX 37–CIN 37 CIN FG JAX FG
CIN missed FG
JAX no 2nd poss
24 CIN win→TIE3Highest scoring tie game in NFL history
10/27/2014 WAS 20–DAL 17 WAS FG DAL downs 5
9/13/2015 STL 34–SEA 31 STL FG SEA downs 8
11/1/2015 TB 23–ATL 20 TB FG ATL downs 6
11/2/2015 CAR 29–IND 26 IND FG CAR FG
IND int
CAR FG
17 IND win→loss
CAR 6-1→7-0, part of 18-win streak, 14 consecutive wins in season4No impact on seeds, as CAR clinched #1 seed by 2 games
12/6/2015 NYJ 23–NYG 20 NYJ FG NYG missed FG 9
12/24/2015 OAK 23–SD 20 OAK FG SD downs 5
12/28/2015 DEN 20–CIN 17 DEN FG CIN fumble 3
10/23/2016 SEA 6–AZ 6 AZ FG SEA FG
AZ missed FG
SEA missed FG
28 AZ win→TIE5Lowest scoring tie game since 11/5/72 (PHI-STLCards, 6-6) and the lowest regulation score (3-3) since 11/7/40 (NYG-DET, 0-0).
SEA #4 seed→#3 seed (head-to-head loss to GB)
11/27/2016 KC 30–DEN 27 DEN FG 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 FG PIT TD 10 CLE win→loss
10/1/2017 AZ 18–SF 15 SF FG AZ TD6First extended possession since the implementation of the 10-minute overtime rule 10 SF win→loss
9/30/2018 TEN 26–PHI 23 PHI FG TEN TD7A defensive pass interference penalty continued the drive on a 4th down stop. Also TEN reconsidered a FG attempt on 4th down and converted 19 PHI win→loss
9/30/2018 HOU 37–IND 34 IND FG HOU FG
IND downs at 0:24
HOU FG
23 IND win→loss
HOU #5 seed→#3 seed
IND #3 seed→#5 seed
WC home field IND→HOU
12/2/2018 NYG 30–CHI 27 NYG FG CHI downs (3 fumbles recovered on drive) 9
12/9/2018 KC 27–BAL 24 KC FG BAL downs 11 BAL QB Lamar Jackson injured in extended OT
9/8/2019 AZ 27–DET 27 AZ FG DET FG
AZ punt
DET downs/:00
26 AZ win→tie
10/12/2020 NO 30–LAC 27 NO FG LAC downs 6 LAC WR Mike Williams injured on final play of game
12/17/2020 LAC 30–LV 27 LV FG LAC TD 7 LV win→loss
9/26/2021 LV 31–LV 28 LV FG MIA FG
LV FG
22 LV SAVE
MIA S Brandon Jones injured in extended OT
10/3/2021 NYJ 27–TEN 24 NYJ FG TEN missed FG (at :15) 15
12/12/2021 SF 26–CIN 23 CIN FG SF TD8Replay of final play reversed to touchdown 8 CIN win→loss
1/9/2022 SF 27–LAR 24 SF FG LAR INT1Replay of final play upheld 7 SF clinches playoff berth with win
1/9/2022 LV 35–LAC 32 LV FG LAC FG
LV FG (:00)
19 LV SAVE
LV clinches playoff berth with win
LAC eliminated from playoffs with loss
PIT avoids playoff elimination with tie

Photo: Green Bay Packers

Footnotes

  • 1
    Replay of final play upheld
  • 2
    Highest number of points that can be scored in regular-season 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 since 11/5/72 (PHI-STLCards, 6-6) and the lowest regulation score (3-3) since 11/7/40 (NYG-DET, 0-0).
  • 6
    First extended possession since the implementation of the 10-minute overtime rule
  • 7
    A defensive pass interference penalty continued the drive on a 4th down stop. Also TEN reconsidered a FG attempt on 4th down and converted
  • 8
    Replay of final play reversed to touchdown