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The term is not exclusive to the NFL, but refers to a specific method of resolving a sporting event that ends with a tie. In that method, the teams begin an extra period of play (in the NFL called "overtime"). Under normal game rules, the team which first scores in overtime wins the game immediately. The team that loses suffers a "sudden death". There can also be sudden death hockey or soccer games. This is different from Baseball, where both teams have an opportunity to bat in their half of the inning before a winner is declared.

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Sudden death in the NFL occurs when a game is tied at the end of regulation. The first team to score in overtime wins the game.

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Q: What is 'sudden death' and when does it take place during an NFL game?
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How many periods are played in a regulation hockey game before overtime is played?

In the NHL, there is one (1) five (5) minute 'sudden death' overtime period during the regular season, followed by a shoot-out if necessary. There is an unlimited amount of twenty (20) minute 'sudden death' periods during the playoffs.

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The NFL has not abandoned the tie game. According to the rules (found at the NFL's web site in their rules digest) a tie game occurs during preseason and regular season games if neither team scores after a 15 minute sudden death quarter. The maximum is one period. With the advent of sudden death, the tie game has nearly vanished from the game but it does happen.

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