Flawed NFL rules are costing teams wins


As in the classic playoff games between the Pittsburgh Steelers and whomever was unfortunate enough to be playing them, the field is blanketed by white, powdery snow.

The two-minute warning in the rear view, as New England breaks the huddle following a first down scamper from quarterback Tom Brady.

The crowd of over 60,000 cautiously optimistic fans have filled the stands of Foxborough stadium, but haven’t seen enough of Brady to call him “Captain Comeback.”

As the Patriots and their adversary Oakland Raiders get to the line of scrimmage, cornerback Charles Woodson shows blitz just outside of the right tackle. The ball snaps, Woodson charges ahead, and boom.

Brady is sacked. Fumble. Game over. Raiders win.

This game was the 2001 AFC divisional game, a contest that will forever live in infamy. The play was reviewed and the call was overturned because Brady had pump faked.

Brady had no clear intent to pass and instead tucked the ball into his chest. It is just one of the many terrible rules — and interpretations — in the NFL rulebook, and is now referred to as “the tuck rule.”

The Patriots won the game. They won a game on a technicality. It’s something that should not happen. And with the new age of NFL public relations doing everything they can to revamp the health of the game, the odds of a game being decided by a referee are increasing.

It’s pure dog meat. It’s softer than a 50 dollar steak. It’s purely unacceptable.

The “tuck rule” is actually NFL rule 3, section 22, article 2, note 2:

“When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.”

This rule was written by some guy that works from a desk. The time between a football being tucked into a player’s chest and the initial motion is about one-tenth of a second. And officials need to rule in real-time, without instant replay. At least for the most part.

This past weekend, football viewers everywhere saw a game decided not by bad officiating, but by a bad rule.

Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers went for the sack on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He succeeded, and better, caused a fumble which Patrick Willis picked up. But wait.

A flag was immediately thrown, unnecessary roughness on Brooks, after a perfect-form tackle. I mean, the tackle was beautiful. He wrapped his arm around Brees’ chest and threw him to the ground with the utmost prejudice.

The official made the right call, that Brooks had wrapped him in the “neck area.”

If I’m not mistaken, which I’m not, the neck attaches the head to the chest. Heck, the chest connects to the abdomen and the abdomen connects to the pelvis. Keep moving south, and there’s the ankles. Surely the NFL rulebook has a definition of the “neck area.”


Here’s Rule 12, section 1, article 12, note 3:

“In covering the passer position, Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly use the helmet and/or facemask to hit the passer, or use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area (see also the other unnecessary-roughness rules covering these subjects). A defensive player must not use his helmet against a passer who is in a defenseless posture for example, (a) forcibly hitting the passer’s head or neck area with the helmet or facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the passer by encircling or grasping him, or (b) lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the passer’s body. This rule does not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or non-crown parts of the helmet in the course of a conventional tackle on a passer.”

For a guy big enough to require oversized halls and doorways in his house, there’s really not much Brooks can do. Maybe go a bit lower, save for the fact that Brees is only six feet tall. That’s above the national average for men’s height, but tiny in the NFL.

And the rule (above) doesn’t describe incidental contact with the “neck area,” though it does mention incidental contact with the helmet being allowed. So while the referee made the right call, the rule is terribly flawed.

During the final play of Monday Night Football, the Patriots were just yards away from winning the game.

Brady dropped back and looked down his one read, tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was obvious, evidenced by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly’s arms wrapped around Gronkowski in bear-hug like fashion. Brady released the ball towards Gronkowski: Interception.

After a penalty marker was thrown, the Patriots got set to line up at the one-yard-line. The officials confer, eventually picking up the flag and declaring the game over.

There were two penalties that could have been called: defensive pass interference and defensive holding.

Instead, the officials ruled that the ball was uncatchable because it was intercepted. Except the pass was picked because Gronkowski was held. He was only two yards from the interception and the contact initiated where the ball was picked.

A fully extended Gronk is more than three yards in total length. He’s made these sort of catches his whole life. It’s one of the reasons he’s recognized as one of the best tight ends to have played the game.

Instead of taking that into consideration, the officials put the Patriots in the loss column for Week 11.

These rule issues need to be closely examined by the league. Certain rules are killing the game of football. Old fogies that haven’t played football in over 20 years are discounting the sheer ability and will of modern day athletes, the same ones who consistently extend the realm of conventional sports into marvelous displays of human ability.

If the NFL fails to be accountable in this capacity, another “XFL” may be coming. Though, this time, it could also be successful.

Follow @SFBay and @JLeskiwNFL on Twitter and at for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.

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