For last year's postseason (and this year's regular season), the NFL adopted a new sudden death format.

The following approved ruling for a safety on an opening possession states:

A.R. 16.19 SAFETY

Third-and-5 on A7. On the opening possession of overtime, A1 is tackled in his own end zone for a safety.

Ruling: Game over. Team B wins. Both teams have met the minimum requirements for possession.

How has both teams met the minimum requirements for possession in this case? If Team B records a safety, then (given they kicked the ball off to Team A to start overtime) they do not technically ever have possession.

Possession: Actual possession of the ball with complete control. The defense gains possession when it catches, intercepts, or recovers a loose ball.

4 Answers 4


The rule regarding safeties in overtime is actually explicitly laid out in the overtime rules (Rule 16, Section 1, Article 3):

(a) 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.

  • 1
    beat me too it!
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 18:57
  • 1
    @Chad I hate it when that happens, hence me furiously typing out the rules to get it up quick. SE sites have improved my typing speed. :-)
    – SocioMatt
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 19:02
  • I guess if you want to think about it that way, sure. But ultimately, the rules simply state that a safety ends the game on the first possession of overtime.
    – SocioMatt
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 19:04
  • misread the question. The safety is on the initial drive, it'd be hard to record one on a kickoff anyways).
    – wax eagle
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 19:51

A safety ends the game based on simple logic:

Since the team scoring on a safety gains possession of the ball following it. Possession is unnecessary in this case because as soon as the ball is kicked off the requirements for both teams to possess the ball has been fulfilled and the team currently in possession is ahead (so no need to attempt to tie/win).

  • Along the simple logic, I had thought that if Team B scored a safety and they needed possession, Team A punting to Team B would fulfill the opportunity...but is irrelevant because of Rule 16, Section 1, Article 3.
    – user527
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:22
  • 2
    The team scoring the safety would not necessarily gain possession, but would by definition automatically have an "opportunity to possess" the ball, even if the team losing the safety were to attempt an onside kick.
    – supercat
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 18:47

In the spirit of the question and the text cited, I would say that team A has already possessed the ball, and team B has scored and thus doesn't need to possess the ball.


Yes, a kickoff is considered an opportunity of possession.

  • 1
    Not for the New Overtime rules it is not.
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 19:09
  • 1
    Welcome to Sports.SE! Can you support your assertion in some way? Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:07
  • If a kickoff is considered an "opportunity of possession," then the receiving team could score a field goal to win...which isn't the case.
    – user527
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:12
  • Okay to reanswer my question, the answer is bool kickoff_is_opportunity_of_possession = ( oldOverTimeRules ) ? true : false; Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 23:38
  • I see. return null;
    – user527
    Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 0:56

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