NFL competition committee proposing to eliminate tuck rule (updated)

March 14, 2013

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

 

Update: The Raiders weighed in, tweeting from the official team account:

 

Updated, 4:50 p.m.

The NFL’s competition committee will propose the elimination of the controversial “tuck rule” first made famous—or infamous, depending upon one’s perspective—when it helped the New England Patriots and their quarterback, Tom Brady, to a playoff victory en route to a Super Bowl triumph.

The tuck rule, added to the NFL’s rulebook in 1999, says that a quarterback’s throwing motion begins when he raises the ball in his hand and begins to move his arm forward. The quarterback’s throwing motion doesn’t end, under the rule, until the quarterback tucks the ball back against his body.

If the ball comes loose any time in between, it’s not a fumble. It’s an incomplete pass. Only if the quarterback reloads, and raises the ball again to start a new throwing motion, can he fumble, under the tuck rule.

Under the proposed change, a fumble would be ruled if a defender knocks the ball from the quarterback’s hand if the quarterback lowers the ball from his throwing motion but has not tucked the ball into his body. It still would be an incomplete pass if the ball is knocked from the quarterback’s hand while the quarterback’s arm is moving forward in the passing motion.

The proposal would have to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 NFL teams. The owners are scheduled to meet next week in Phoenix at the annual league meeting.

The tuck rule came to prominence when it saved Brady from a fumble late in a triumph over the Oakland Raiders in an AFC playoff game in 2002. The Patriots went on to the first of their three Super Bowl wins.

Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, the chairman of the competition committee, said in a conference call with reporters Thursday that the proposal came about in part because of input by the officials. The officials believe, McKay said, that they can call the new rule correctly.

“We felt more comfortable in proposing the rule,” McKay said.

League officials and competition committee members had said over the years they would like to eliminate the tuck rule but couldn’t come up with a better alternative that could be officiated properly.

“We’ve talked about it ever since that New England-Oakland game,” Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, a member of the competition committee, said in a 2005 interview. “That year, it was probably the biggest topic of the committee and the biggest topic in our presentation to the owners. But it’s one thing to think you need to change it, and another thing entirely to change it in a way that it actually can be officiated.”

The rule was often criticized over the years. Former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said in 2005 that “it says you can pull [the ball] down and do anything you want for the next 10 minutes. It makes no sense to me. It’s the way it’s worded. I think everybody probably sees that and says it’s a bad rule.”

Under another proposed rule change, a runner could be penalized for lowering his head into a tackler in certain instances. Under the rule, neither a defender nor a ball carrier could initiate contact with the crown of his helmet while outside the tackle box. Doing so would result in a 15-yard personal foul.

St. Louis Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said a ball carrier still would be permitted to lower his shoulder into a tackler. But penalizing a runner for initiating contact with the crown of the helmet is “an obvious thing,” Fisher said.

Fisher, a member of the competition committee, said on the conference call: “We don’t feel like it’s going to be difficult to explain it [to players] and to coach it. We’ve been teaching the young players and the youth football organizations, ‘See what you hit,’ for years…. We can avoid dangerous situations on the field.”

Another proposed rule change would leave a play subject to instant replay review even if a coach improperly threw a challenge flag in a situation in which a replay challenge is not allowed. That action would result in the loss of a timeout for the offending coach’s team (but no penalty unless the team had no timeouts left); the play would be reviewed. The proposal comes in reaction to the Thanksgiving game last season in which a Houston Texans’ touchdown was allowed to stand on an erroneous call because Detroit Lions Coach Jim Schwartz threw a challenge flag on a scoring play that is automatically reviewed by replay and cannot be challenged.

Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, reiterated on the conference call that the league will require players to wear thigh and knee pads during games in the 2013 season. The players’ union has offered some resistance to such mandatory pads.

Anderson also reiterated that the league will take a more aggressive and proactive approach to ensuring that playing fields are in acceptable condition. Anderson acknowledged at last month’s NFL scouting combine that the new approach comes largely in reaction to the complaints about the condition of the field at FedEx Field during the Redskins’ playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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