Only one Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime. You might remember it.
Somehow, the Patriots forced an extra period despite trailing the Falcons 28-3. And of course Tom Brady and New England won. The Super Bowl has been played since 1967, and only in the 2017 iteration was additional time needed to decide the NFL champion.
That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen again, though, and if it does, you’re surely wondering how it works. What are the rules? NFL overtime rules are a bit controversial to begin with, so maybe they’re better in the playoffs?
Below, you’ll find all the overtime rules explained for the Super Bowl, which operates under the same overtime rules as the general NFL postseason does but differenty from the regular season.
Super Bowl overtime rules
The most recent change to the NFL’s overtime rules came in 2017. That’s when the league changed the time for OT from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in the interests of player safety. Once the postseason comes around, though, that’s a relatively inconsequential change, since there can’t be a tie in the playoffs.
Since 2010, the NFL has been operating under the general overtime structure that still exists a decade later. Each team is given a chance to possess the ball in the extra period unless the first team to get the ball scores a touchdown. You can read the NFL’s full rulebook section on overtime here.
NFL playoff rules for playoff games, including Super Bowl
- At the end of regulation, there will be another coin toss. The referee will toss a coin to determine which team gets the choice to receive the ball first. The visiting team captain will call the coin toss.
- Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. There’s one exception: If the team to possess the ball first scores a touchdown, the game is over.
- If the initial possession doesn’t end in a touchdown, sudden death play — where the game ends on any score (safety, field goal or touchdown) — continues until a winner is determined.
- The point after try is not attempted if the game ends on a touchdown.
- All reviews in overtime will be initiated by the replay official, meaning there are no coach’s challenges.
- If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
- There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period.
- The captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred that choice.
- Each team gets three timeouts during an overtime half (two overtime periods).
- The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period.
- If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.
NFL overtime rules controversy
There’s a recent high-profile example of playoff overtime rules not satisfying all NFL fans.
In the 2019 AFC title game, Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs went to overtime with Tom Brady’s Patriots. New England won the coin toss, received the kickoff and drove down the field to score a touchdown. That season’s biggest story and league MVP Mahomes didn’t get to touch the ball in overtime because his team lost the coin toss and couldn’t get a stop.
The Chiefs proposed a rule change in the offseason that followed that included a straightforward provision: No matter what the initial team to possess did, including scoring a touchdown, the second team would also get a chance to have the ball.
That proposal didn’t make it through approval, and one by the Eagles in 2020 to extend the overtime period back to 15 minutes never made it to a vote, either.
History of Super Bowl overtime
Only one Super Bowl has gone to overtime, the aforementioned 2017 edition between the Patriots and the Falcons, Super Bowl 51.
That year, New England fell behind 28-3 before mounting the largest Super Bowl comeback ever. The Pats got their game-tying score with 58 seconds left in regulation on a James White touchdown run to force overtime.
The Falcons never possessed the ball in overtime. New England won the coin and drove 75 yards in nine plays. White ran it in for the overtime score, too, getting Brady his fifth ring.
History of NFL overtime rules
The most famous early overtime game in the NFL was the league’s championship game in 1958. The Giants and Colts were tied at the end of regulation and a winner needed to be determined, so they played on.
The actual first overtime game came in 1955, though, when the Rams beat the Giants in OT as the brainchild of the game’s promoter, Harry Glickman.
The NFL didn’t add overtime to the regular season until 1974. When the rule was initially implemented, the first team to score would win, including by just a field goal. It took until 2010 for the only first score to automatically win to be altered to a touchdown.
The most recent NFL overtime rule change came in 2017, when the length of an overtime period was shortened from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. That was done with the interests of player safety in mind.