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The NFL overtime rules state that a touchdown by either team wins the game (field goals and esoteric scoring methods are irrelevant to this question).

During Sunday Night Football on November 29, 2015, the Patriots lost to the Broncos in overtime when a Bronco scored a touchdown. This ended the game, 30-24.

During Monday Night Football on the next day, November 30, 2015, the Browns lost to the Ravens 33-27. The Browns lined up with seconds left to go in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 27. They were trying to hit a game-winning field goal as time expired. Instead, the field goal was blocked. The ball was in bounds and live, allowing a Raven to pick up the ball and run it back for a touchdown.

The clock was at zero by the time the ball was picked up, let alone run back. Coaches came onto the field, shook hands, everyone treated it like game over except for the referees. They made the Ravens attempt a PAT (or two-point conversion) due to the touchdown. The Ravens sent out their offense, assumed victory formation, and the QB took a knee to end the game.

In both situations there is no possible outcome of the PAT that would alter the final outcome of the game. Why is it required for a game-winning touchdown as time expires in regulation, but not in overtime?

Starting in 2015 an NFL defense can block a PAT and return it for a two-point safety (same as NCAA now), but that would not materially affect the outcome of this situation.

  • 1
    What answer are you looking for to this question which is more than "because the rules say so"? – Philip Kendall Dec 1 '15 at 7:26
  • 2
    @PhilipKendall Rule questions are of course perfectly valid; and in this case there is a more relevant answer. – Joe Dec 1 '15 at 15:25
  • @PhilipKendall there are many rules on the books that have a historical reason. I have read several questions here on the NFL rules that have interesting or odd rationales, and I am curious if such a condition applies here. – user7692 Dec 1 '15 at 15:25
  • Small wording quibble in the question: If the defense returns the kick for a score, it is not a safety, it is a two point touchdown. Safeties are also possible, and result in one point for the other team. – Joe Dec 1 '15 at 15:26
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A better question would be, why is an extra point not required in Overtime. That answer is in the Rulebook, 16-1-3:

Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner, or if the team kicking off to start the overtime period scores a safety on the receiving team’s initial possession, in which case the team that kicked off is the winner. If a touchdown is scored, the game is over, and the Try is not attempted.

(emphasis mine)

Beyond that exception, there is no other exception to the try being required. While it might seem silly, it is nonetheless part of the rules that a try be attempted. Note that while in the particular game at hand, no difference in the outcome was possible, any game with a one or two point difference could still be tied or won by either team if the defense returns the try for a score, or scores a safety. As such, it's appropriate to require the try of the offense in some cases - and the rules don't tend to be worded with things like "Unless it doesn't matter, you have to ...".

I would also direct you to the following page listing the NFL tiebreakers:

TO BREAK A TIE WITHIN A DIVISION

If, at the end of the regular season, two or more clubs in the same division finish with identical won-lost-tied percentages, the following steps will be taken until a champion is determined.

Two Clubs

  • Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).

  • Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.

  • Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.

  • Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

  • Strength of victory.

  • Strength of schedule.

  • Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

  • Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.

  • Best net points in common games.

  • Best net points in all games.

  • Best net touchdowns in all games.

  • Coin toss

Note that net points is a factor - although one nearly never relevant, it's still possible for it to matter. As such, allowing the offense to score a point they're entitled to seems reasonable to me. (Of course, the offense is welcome to kneel down as Baltimore did - particularly when they are far out of playoff contention.)

  • It makes sense that in a game tied at the end of regulation going to OT, the PAT might not be attempted because the game was close enough to go to overtime: the winning team might not "deserve" a stronger victory. But in regulation there are too many different scenarios where it might matter because we do not know ahead of time that it would not (as opposed to OT where we know the game must be tied). – user7692 Dec 1 '15 at 15:30
  • In a game tied, the PAT should be attempted so the team wins. Deserve has nothing to do with it. – Joe Dec 1 '15 at 15:32
  • I mean it makes sense not to attempt it in OT because it was tied at the end of regulation. – user7692 Dec 1 '15 at 15:37
  • Wikipedia also gives the same rationale but you get some free internet points for the good answer. – user7692 Dec 1 '15 at 15:41
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Rule 4 Section 8 Article 2 d.

(d) If a touchdown is made on the last play of a period, the Try attempt shall be made (except during a sudden-death period)

http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/7_2013_Game_Timing.pdf

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