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Under the NFL's current "modified sudden death" overtime rules, if the first team scores a field goal, the second team is entitled to one more possession. What happens if the clock runs out during that possession?

Suppose the score is tied 20-20 at the end of the 4th quarter. Team A wins the overtime coin toss and receives the kickoff to begin overtime. After a long slow drive, Team A scores a field goal to make the score 23-20. Now they kick off to Team B. Team B is not able to score, and the overtime period ends with Team B still in possession. What happens?

Rule 16 is not very explicit on this point. Article 4 (a) says:

There shall be a maximum of one 15-minute period, even if the second team has not had an opportunity to possess the ball or if its initial possession has not ended. If the score is tied at the end of the period, the game shall result in a tie.

I think this means that Team A wins, 23-20, but I am not completely sure.

Has this ever happened in a regular-season NFL game?

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    I think your interpretation is probably right. Although not explicit here, I would expect it to be very explicit if the intent was that a non-tied score after 15 minutes should result in a tie. – Dr.DrfbagIII Nov 19 '15 at 17:56
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According to this blogpost, it depends on whether the game is postseason or not. For the postseason, the game would continue for a second period of overtime with Team B in possession, but for the regular season the game would end 23-20 for Team A.

Of course a blog isn't always the most reliable source, but we can check this also in the rulebook: checking the link you sent regarding Rule 16, there are different articles for preseason/regular searon and for postseason.

ARTICLE 4. OVERTIME IN PRESEASON AND REGULATION SEASON

The following shall apply to overtime games in the preseason and regular season. There shall be a maximum of one 15-minute period, even if the second team has not had an opportunity to possess the ball or if its initial possession has not ended. If the score is tied at the end of the period, the game shall result in a tie.

The only sensible interpretation of this is that in regular season Team A would win for your scenario. Team B cannot get the ball because there can only be one 15-minute period, and the game cannot be a tie because the score is not tied.

And as Dr.DrfbagIII pointed out in a comment, this would be the place to point out explicitly any extraordinary rules why 23-20 would magically turn into 23-23, and in the absence of such a rule we can assume that Team A wins 23-20.

ARTICLE 5. OVERTIME IN POSTSEASON

The following shall apply to overtime games in the postseason:

If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.

Note the phrase "if the second team’s initial possession has not ended". This means that in postseason Team B would be given a chance to score too.

As to the question of whether this has happened, I am not sure but would guess not. According to the same blog, there has only been one drive over 13 minutes in modern NFL history (13:27 by Tennessee Oilers vs Dallas in 1997). Given the relative rarity of overtime drives, and that the new overtime rules have only been used in the last couple of years, I guess that it hasn't yet occurred.

  • Nice find. In addition to that 13 minute drive you mention, the NCAA record for longest drive is 14:26 by Navy in 2004 which ended in a field goal. – Dr.DrfbagIII Nov 20 '15 at 14:17

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