Rookie running back Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the latest competitor to find out an NFL game can end in a tie … by playing in a tie.
The Steelers hosted the winless Detroit Lions on Sunday in what turned out to be an ugly contest. The game was knotted at 16-16 after 60 minutes, sending the game to overtime. The Lions had a chance to win it with a 48-yard kick, but Ryan Santoso missed the field goal attempt. The Steelers fumbled their own chance at a potential game-winning kick, as rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth coughed the ball up in the final seconds to give Detroit possession.
The game ended one play later, as the Lions attempted to lateral their way into the end zone. Harris thought there was more football left to be played, though.
“I didn't even know you could tie in the NFL,” Harris said, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. “In my mind, I was sitting on the bench saying, 'I've got another quarter to go.' But someone came to me and said, 'That's it.' I've never had a tie in my life before.”
While Sunday’s matchup was just the ninth NFL game for Harris, ties have become almost an annual tradition in the league over the last 10 years. Here’s a look at how the NFL’s modified overtime rules have changed things, as well as which games have ended in a stalemate.
What are the NFL’s overtime rules?
As of 2017, regular-season games that are tied after 60 minutes only have one overtime period of 10 minutes. There used to be a 15-minute period, but it was shortened with player safety in mind.
In those 10 minutes, if the team that gets possession first scores a touchdown, that team wins the game. If the team that gets possession first kicks a field goal on that first possession, the other team gets a shot to even the game or win it. If the team that gets possession first punts or turns the ball over on that possession, the next score from either side wins. If neither team scores throughout the 10 minutes, the game ends in a tie.
For a full explanation of the NFL’s overtime rules, click here.
What’s the difference between NFL and NCAA overtime rules?
There is a stark difference between the NFL’s overtime rules and the NCAA’s overtime rules.
In college football, overtime periods feature two possessions with each team getting one chance on offense and defense. Offenses begin at the opposing team’s 25-yard line and trade possessions until one team scores more in a given overtime. In previous years, teams that scored touchdowns would need to go for two-point conversions beginning with the third overtime and the game would continue that way until someone scored more in a given OT period.
In 2019, the rule was changed so once a game reached the fifth overtime, teams would no longer start drives from the 25-yard line. Instead, teams begin alternating two-point conversion plays until a winner is determined. Fans saw this play out in extreme fashion back in October when Illinois upset Penn State in a nine-overtime marathon.
Harris played an overtime game on the biggest stage in college football when Alabama beat Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 8, 2018.
How many NFL games have ended in a tie?
Back to the NFL, 27 regular-season games have ended in a tie since 1974, when the league introduced a sudden-death overtime rule. Up until then, the NFL and AFL did not have any overtime rules in place for regular season games.
Between 1974 and 2011, the final year before the NFL first modified its overtime rule, there were 17 ties out of 494 regular-season games that went to overtime (3.4%).
From 2012 to 2016, the final year before the current NFL overtime rules went into effect, there were five ties out of 83 regular-season games that went to overtime (6.0%):
2012, Week 10: St. Louis Rams 24, San Francisco 49ers 24
2013, Week 12: Minnesota Vikings 26, Green Bay Packers 26
2014, Week 6: Carolina Panthers 37, Cincinnati Bengals 37
2016, Week 7: Seattle Seahawks 6, Arizona Cardinals 6
2016, Week 8: Washington 27, Cincinnati Bengals 27
From the start of 2017 through Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season, there were five ties out of just 62 regular-season games that went to overtime (8.1%):
2018, Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Cleveland Browns 21
2018, Week 2: Minnesota Vikings 29, Green Bay Packers 29
2019, Week 1: Detroit Lions 27, Arizona Cardinals 27
2020, Week 3: Cincinnati Bengals 23, Philadelphia Eagles 23
2021, Week 10: Detroit Lions 16, Pittsburgh Steelers 16
Which NFL team has the most ties in history?
The Chicago Bears have the most ties all-time with 42, but all came prior to 1974.
The Green Bay Packers have the most ties since the NFL implemented its first regular-season overtime rules with six. The Philadelphia Eagles are next with five, while four teams trail with four ties.
Here's the full leaderboard for NFL ties since 1974.
1. Green Bay Packers (6)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (5)
T-3. Arizona Cardinals (4)
T-3. Cincinnati Bengals (4)
T-3. Minnesota Vikings (4)
T-3. Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
7. Detroit Lions (3)
T-8. Atlanta Falcons (2)
T-8. Cleveland Browns (2)
T-8. Denver Broncos (2)
T-8. Kansas City Chiefs (2)
T-8. Los Angeles Rams (2)
T-8. New York Giants (2)
T-8. New York Jets (2)
T-8. San Francisco 49ers (2)
T-8. Washington Football Team (2)
T-17. Baltimore Ravens (1)
T-17. Carolina Panthers (1)
T-17. Indianapolis Colts (1)
T-17. Miami Dolphins (1)
T-17. Seattle Seahawks (1)
T-17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1)
The Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans join the Bears as teams to never record a tie since 1974. The Texans and Jaguars are the only NFL teams to never record a tie at all.