The Super Bowl cannot end in a tie. Instead, the NFL uses a modified version of their regular season overtime rules to determine a winner. Both teams are given a chance to possess the ball. If the game is still tied at the end of two possessions, the game goes to sudden death. If the game is still tied at the end of the 15-minute overtime period, the game will continue with another 15-minute period until a winner is determined.
As a long-suffering Vikings fan, I’ve seen my team on the short end of several tragic postseason overtime battles. One such game in 2010 led to one of several rule changes in recent years in an attempt to take random luck out of these vital playoff games. Alas, it came too late to give my Vikings a chance at my long-awaited Super Bowl.
In this article, let’s look at the history of these rule changes and the games that inspired the current overtime setup that has included some of the most memorable games in NFL history.
- The Super Bowl cannot end in a tie and will continue until a winner is determined.
- Both teams get a chance on offense, and if the game is still tied after they’ve each had a possession, the game enters sudden death.
- Super Bowl 51 between the Patriots and Falcons is the only Super Bowl to ever go into overtime.
What Happens if the Super Bowl is Tied at the End of the Fourth Quarter?
If the Super Bowl is tied at the end of the fourth quarter, the game will go into overtime. There are several differences between the NFL’s regular season overtime rules and the postseason.
The biggest is that a postseason game cannot end in a tie. Overtime periods are fifteen minutes instead of ten like in the regular season, and if the game is tied at the end of the additional fifteen minutes, the game will continue until a winner is determined.
Like the start of a game, a coin toss determines who gets the ball to start. How the game concludes differs drastically, however. Both teams are guaranteed a chance to possess the ball.
- If the first team to have the ball doesn’t score, then the first team to score wins.
- If the first team to have the ball scores a touchdown, the second team must also score a touchdown. The game then enters sudden death with the next team to score declared the victor.
- If the first team to have the ball kicks a field goal, the second team can win with a touchdown. If they too kick a field goal, the game enters sudden death.
If the game is still tied at the end of the first overtime period, the game continues without another coin toss. All replays are initiated from the replay booth with no challenges permitted by the teams. 
Has There Ever Been a Super Bowl that Went Into Overtime?
Roughly 5.5% of NFL games go into overtime. 
While there have been 57 Super Bowls played, only one of these has gone into overtime, a rate of just 1.7%, well below the league average. I wouldn’t look too much into this since we’re dealing with such a small sample size of games and believe it’s just as likely that a Super Bowl would go into overtime and perhaps even higher since most Super Bowls are between evenly matched teams.
The only Super Bowl to go into overtime was Super Bowl 51 between the Patriots and Falcons. Infamously known as the “28-3 game,” the Patriots came storming back from a huge third-quarter deficit to force overtime.
At this time, the NFL hadn’t adopted the current rules that require both teams to have a chance to score in overtime. The Patriots won the toss and scored a touchdown just nine plays later, never facing a third down. 
What Has Led to the Recent Rule Changes?
The NFL playoffs have gone through several changes to their overtime rules in the last 15 years. As often seems the case, the Vikings breaking my heart spurned the first of these rule changes to how overtime is handled.
God, it still hurts so freaking much! The Saints won the subsequent coinflip and with the help of a questionable pass interference call, marched down the field for a game-winning field goal. Favre and the Vikings offense never saw the field.
The NFL changed the “first team to score wins” rule the following year for the playoffs. Unless the first team to possess the ball scores a touchdown, both teams will get a chance to possess the ball. 
This rule stayed in place until what is, in my opinion, the best game of football I’ve ever seen.
The two powerhouse offenses combined for 24 points in the game’s last two minutes as quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen ran the opposing defenses ragged. 
Once again, it felt like the coin flip would determine the winner. With both team’s defenses exhausted, the Chiefs won the toss and marched down the field in eight plays, facing just one third down while Josh Allen watched from the sidelines.
Read more: HOW MANY RINGS DOES PATRICK MAHOMES HAVE?
While it didn’t diminish from the fourth quarter’s final two minutes, I would have loved to see Josh Allen get a chance to match Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Once again, the NFL felt the same, tweaking the overtime rules that offseason to ensure that both teams would get an offensive possession regardless of how the first overtime drive ends. 
Since football games have such a limited number of possessions, it’s challenging to construct overtime rules that give both teams an equal shot at winning and minimizing the blind luck of a coin flip.
I think the NFL has gotten about as close as they can to balancing the scales in these consequential playoff games and providing coaches with some interesting options for how they approach over time.
If you’re guaranteed to have the ball, would you prefer to have the ball second so you know if you need a touchdown or field goal to win the game or keep it going?
It’s an interesting debate that I hope we get to see at some point in the years to come.