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If Super Bowl goes to OT, new rules get 1st test

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HOWARD FENDRICH
February 5, 2011
— Imagine this scenario: Sunday's Super Bowl goes to overtime, and the team that wins the coin toss gets the ball, drives down the field and makes a field goal.

Game over, right? Nope. Not anymore.


That's the way things used to work. This season, though, the NFL changed the postseason OT system to eliminate that sort of one-possession, one-kick scenario. So the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers need to figure out how to prepare and adjust, just in case their big game at Cowboys Stadium winds up being the first game in the history of the league to get to overtime under the new rules.


None of the previous 44 Super Bowls went to OT. But Steelers-Packers is widely expected to be close; the Packers were favored by 2 points in the opening line, and the margin at kickoff hasn't been this low since 1982.


If these teams wind up tied at the end of the fourth quarter, this will be a brand-new experience for everyone.


"There are a lot of questions still that haven't been answered, because nobody's gotten into the situation yet," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "I'd like the rule had we had it ... all year. Then we'd know what to do before we get to the Super Bowl."


Not everyone who'll be on the field Sunday was even aware of the changes. Here's what Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said when asked if he knew about it:


"No. I haven't really paid attention to it," he said, laughing and shaking his head. "It doesn't even really matter to me."


Other players acknowledged they weren't sure what would happen. Pittsburgh rookie receiver Antonio Brown pretended to know, until his bluff was called and he was prodded to recite the new rule and couldn't.


Presumably, all of the coaches and NFL officials are familiar with it. But there is certainly confusion elsewhere. Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana said he was talking about the OT setup with friends during breakfast Friday, "trying to figure out the whole thing."


Here's a little primer:


It used to be that the first team to score in the extra period won the game, no matter what.


Now, if Team A wins the coin toss, gets the opening kickoff and scores a touchdown, it wins the game. But if Team A kicks a field goal, Team B gets a possession. If Team B also kicks a field goal, tying the score, the game continues, and the next points scored by either team earns a victory; if Team B scores a touchdown, it wins; and if Team B doesn't score on its first possession, Team A wins.


A safety at any point ends things.


So does everyone like it?


"I'm a traditionalist," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.


His teammate, safety Charlie Peprah, was able to explain the rule from memory. While he understands the idea of wanting to give each team "equal opportunity" because the old way allowed for what he called "kind of a cheap way to win," he also is "a big fan of: 'You've got to stop them.'"


The tweak was made in March 2010, two months after the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings 31-28 in overtime in the NFC championship game. The Saints won the OT coin toss and drove to Garrett Hartley's 40-yard kick on the opening possession.


As of now, the change is only for the playoffs, although NFL owners eventually could add it to the regular season, too. Because none of this year's playoff games went to an extra period, no one knows exactly what would be in store if the Steelers and Packers need OT to determine who wins the Vince Lombardi Trophy.


"I hope it doesn't come down in this game, but it's going to be different," Pittsburgh's Arians said. "It has made you sit down and think and have another game plan, so to speak, for overtime."


During "game management" meetings this week, both coaching staffs discussed the factors that could come into play:


Do you kick away the ball even if you win the coin toss?


Do you make an extra effort to score a touchdown instead of a field goal, including perhaps going for it on fourth-and-short to extend a drive?


Do you change your defensive strategy?


"There are a lot of things you can talk about in advance," Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said, "but you also have to be able to adjust."


Both kickers Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham and Green Bay's Mason Crosby insist they're not bothered a bit by the way their roles could be affected if Sunday's game winds up needing more than 60 minutes of action.


"If we get the ball first, I've still got to make that kick. But you hope the offense scores a touchdown," Crosby said. "Then it'll be over. Right?"


Yes, Mason, that's right.



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