Tie games may become a trend in today’s NFL

Published 2:45 pm Friday, September 21, 2018

Two weeks, two ties.

OK, let’s get this out of the way now: Yes, the NFL is fit to be tied.

Fit tighter than most folks might think, too.

In a slopfest of an opener, the Steelers and Browns drew 21-21 . The first game of the season often can be messy and painful to watch, particularly when so many key players don’t take the field much, if at all, in preseason. This one was all of that, even if a tie was a big step in the right direction for Cleveland, which lost 31 of 32 contests entering this season.

Yet the Browns sounded more angry with the deadlock than did the Steelers.

“There’s no way that we shouldn’t have won this game,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We didn’t win. It is all about winning. Nobody cares about draws or ties, whatever you guys call it. We were in a (position) to win this game countless times. We just have to make the plays.”

A week later, in a more artistic affair — minus the ugly kicking by the now-released Daniel Carlson for Minnesota — the Vikings and Packers finished 29-29. Like the other tie, it was a divisional game. Unlike the other one, both of these clubs should be in the playoff hunt.

So assessing a draw left them perplexed.

“I don’t know what to feel after a tie,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “It’s a unique place to be and proud of the way that the whole team — when I say the team, the coaching staff, the players, the support staff — the way everybody stayed in it and fought. There were times where we thought we should have won it, there were times the Packers feel like they should have won it. And it was a great game, and unfortunately we didn’t get the win.”

Green Bay’s reactions were similar.

“It’s gross,” kicker Mason Crosby offered. “I don’t like it. Obviously, you hate losing. A tie is just weird. You just don’t get them a lot.”

Ah, but you just might this season. Two in two weeks could be a harbinger.

The NFL reduced the length of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 before last season. Stunningly, there were no ties.

But the odds of more results without a winner are vastly increased. And league executives understood that when they made the change.

“What it came down to was really a player safety discussion,” said Dean Blandino, head of the league’s officiating department when the rule change was made in 2017 and now an NFL analyst for Fox. “The year prior to change, you had several games that went the full overtime periods and ended in a tie, or a game ended on a field goal at the last second. That’s an additional however many plays in that game. We had one instance when a team had to come back on Thursday night and play, so that’s a very short week for rest and then playing again.

“So we asked, ‘Are we pushing our players to play an extra quarter and having to come back, creating a chance for more injuries?’

“Yes the potential for more ties would be there in a shorter overtime, but the members of the (competition) committee and the owners didn’t think a tie was necessarily a bad thing.”

Maybe yes, maybe no. But are the alternatives worthwhile?

The NFL could adopt the college rule (won’t ever happen), which detractors have said is like having a home run derby decide a tied baseball game; too much of the natural game is eliminated. So is the sudden death element, although even that has been diluted by the current NFL overtime rule in which the team receiving the kickoff must score a touchdown for the game to end immediately.

Not that we are advocating for getting rid of that and returning to the coin toss being even more instrumental in deciding a game.

The option of continuing to play until there is a winner doesn’t work in the regular season for a variety of reasons. Player safety — player exhaustion — is the main reason, but there are broadcast considerations on a busy Sunday afternoon, too. And fan comfort, particularly in Lambeau or Soldier Field or Gillette Stadium in December.

The NFL also senses that with the shorter overtime, teams will attack more during the extra period. That seems to have been the case at Lambeau Field last Sunday. In the other tie, play was so chaotic it was difficult to tell if either side had a plan for winning.

“There were a lot of things discussed and on the table,” Blandino said of competition committee meetings about overtime. “This goes back if you look prior to 2012, the coin toss was such a big part of OT. We had less ties under that system; just, look at the stats from 1994-2011, and there were only four ties. Since 2012 and the chance to have both teams getting possession, in the next five years, we had five ties in that period.”

And in 2018, we already have two. Get ready for more.

— — —

NEW YORK (AP) — This isn’t exactly where the Jets expected to be right now. At least, not this way.

Todd Bowles’ bunch is 1-2 after an embarrassing flop in Cleveland, falling 21-17 on Thursday night to a Browns team that hadn’t won since 2016. Two losses in five days have New York looking for answers and hoping things don’t quickly spiral before the season is even a month old.

“It’s a 24-hour rule and you’ve got to have tough skin,” Bowles said Friday morning. “We’re a tough-minded team and it’s not going to drag. We’ve got a couple of days to get some rest and get some guys back and get healthy and move on to Jacksonville next week — no different from if we had won the ballgame.

“We’ll be fine that way. I think we’re mentally tough.”

Judging from the mistakes, penalties and missed opportunities in the Jets’ losses to Miami last Sunday and then at Cleveland, the team hasn’t backed up its coach.

That assessment will certainly be tested, though. New York’s upcoming schedule includes some tough defenses — at Jacksonville, vs. Denver, vs. Indianapolis, vs. Minnesota and at Chicago — that will be licking their chops at the prospect of facing rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.

“Going in, watching the schedule after he won starting job, I thought this would be his toughest game from a scheme-coverage standpoint because of the things they do on that side of the ball,” Bowles said. “I thought he handled that well.”

It’s not that the No. 3 overall pick has been bad. Darnold hasn’t been particularly great, either.

In the Jets’ two losses, he has one touchdown pass and four interceptions, although the two against Cleveland came late in the game while he was trying to rally New York to a comeback.

“It’s not acceptable the way that I played tonight and I know that, but also take it like a man,” Darnold said after the game. “I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense that we had. I just have to play better. That’s really it. I have to find completions and continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

Darnold was 15 of 31 for 169 yards and the two INTs against Cleveland. He has said all the right things, showing the maturity of a veteran. But the 21-year-old face of the franchise is going through the rookie rollercoaster of ups and downs.

“He has a fire within that you really can’t see, but I thought he competed his butt off yesterday,” Bowles said. “I thought yesterday was one of his better ballgames from a mental standpoint and a toughness standpoint and a grit standpoint.”

But Darnold was easily overshadowed in front of a prime-time crowd by Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick who replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor and energized the Browns while leading them to their first win since Dec. 24, 2016.

While Mayfield was zipping passes all around the field, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates seemed to play it mostly conservative with Darnold. Bowles thought the offense was “well-balanced,” but added that the Browns’ defense negated some of the Jets’ game plan in the second half.

“I mean, we can run it better, we can protect better, we can run routes better and he can make some decisions better,” Bowles said. “But it’s a team effort. It’s not just Sam. From that standpoint, I’m not saying that people weren’t helping him out. We can do a better job all around helping him out.”

Not committing silly penalties — on both sides of the ball — would be a start.

There was Isaiah Crowell’s touchdown celebration when he pretended to wipe his rear end with the football before firing it into the crowd, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Cornerback Trumaine Johnson had two penalties during one drive, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call on a third-down play when he flipped the ball to Browns receiver Jarvis Landry, and an unnecessary roughness call two plays later.

Also, Mayfield was sacked on a 2-point conversion attempt at the end of the third quarter, but cornerback Morris Claiborne committed a holding penalty. The Browns converted the 2-point try, with Landry throwing to Mayfield, tying the game and shifting the momentum to Cleveland.

“Well, the penalties are definitely on the players,” Bowles said. “I mean, coaches can’t play for them. We understand situations and we know what to do and what not to do. Guys have got to be calmer in certain situations.”

Perhaps the biggest swing came with the Jets leading 14-3 in the third period when Darnold completed a 17-yard pass to Robby Anderson, who then fumbled. The Browns kicked a field goal four plays later, making it a one-score game.

“I know we have character and I know that we’ll fight and I know we have a decent team,” Bowles said. “We’ve just got to cut down and fix some things.”

— — —

LOS ANGELES (AP) — During the NFL’s 21-year absence from Los Angeles, the area’s professional football fans survived just fine. They watched the best game of each week on television, and they rooted for their favorite teams from afar.

Or more likely, they just went to the beach.

Now that the Rams have returned and the Chargers have arrived to saturate the nation’s second-largest market with a home game nearly every weekend, Los Angeles fans have a wealth of football at their doors.

What LA doesn’t have is a true local rivalry — not yet, and maybe not ever.

The Chargers (1-1) and the Rams (2-0) will meet on the Coliseum field Sunday for the first time since their relocations. The players and coaches on both sides agree that any attempt to portray this Week 3 schedule quirk as a fight for the city’s heart would be a cheesy ploy of marketing or motivation.

“Not at all, not at all,” Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said when asked if there’s a rivalry.

“I still think they are San Diego,” Brockers added. “I still say San Diego Chargers, you know, so I don’t think it’s going to ever be a rivalry. I think we’re just sharing a city and sharing a stadium. I don’t think it will ever be turning into anything serious. … Two different conferences. Two different divisions. I think them being so far away, they’re in Orange County, we’re all the way up here (in Ventura County), so we never see them. There’s just no conflict.”

Although they’ll be roommates in a multi-billion-dollar Inglewood stadium complex in 2020, Los Angeles’ two franchises are divided by conference alignment, a lack of history — even the 94 miles of freeway traffic between their training bases in Thousand Oaks and Costa Mesa.

They’re unlikely to meet much more often than once every four seasons under NFL scheduling policies. As the 49ers and Raiders can attest, that’s not a recipe for a rivalry, even if the teams also schedule an annual preseason meeting.

“It’s hard to have a true rivalry (with) a team once every four years,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I think as players in the locker room, we see it as a fight for game No. 3. You know, find a way to get to 2-1. So it’s something I guess both teams are obviously getting used to, with both being in the same area. But I don’t sense that they’re becoming a huge rival, because you’re not going to see them twice a year. You’re not going to see them every year.”

So don’t expect a crackling derby atmosphere at the Coliseum. Instead, expect a high-level game between two potential Super Bowl contenders.

LA might not have a rivalry, but it has two solid teams coming off winning seasons in 2017. Both clubs’ offenses and defenses are ranked in the league’s top 10, and both rosters are fairly stacked with stars and compelling matchups.

Rivers has never been afraid to throw at former Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, who has intercepted passes from the veteran quarterback four times in their six matchups. On the other side, Chargers’ pass-rushing phenom Melvin Ingram will be in pursuit of Jared Goff, who will attempt to get his throws past cornerback Casey Hayward.

Add up the two-team collection of Pro Bowl talent from Aaron Donald to Keenan Allen, and this inaugural crosstown showdown has the potential for high excitement — even if the raw emotions of a true rivalry just aren’t there.

“I’m glad LA has got two teams, but it doesn’t matter,” Peters said. “Come on. They’re in the AFC. We’re in the NFC.”