You've no doubt seen Adrian Peterson's 11-yard touchdown run replayed countless times since it happened in the fourth quarter Sunday, briefly giving the Minnesota Vikings a lead against the Dallas Cowboys. You saw Peterson break through the line, encounter Cowboys safety Jeff Heath and then. …
Heath halted Peterson for an instant at the 5-yard line and nearly had him on the ground as several players joined the pack. One was Vikings tight end Chase Ford, who broke Peterson's backwards fall, set him upright and then helped push the pile into the end zone.
As Ford's role in the score grew more apparent, many of you wondered why no penalty was called. As it turns out, the play was legal -- but yet another example of the precise and nuanced rules NFL officials and players must navigate.
The bottom line: Players can push, but they can't pull, their teammates. (For some reason, that reminded me of my favorite "Far Side" cartoon of all time.)
Here is how Rule 12, Section 1, Article 4 of the official NFL rule book reads:
No offensive player may:
(a) pull a runner in any direction at any time; or
(b) use interlocking interference, by grasping a teammate or by using his hands or arms to encircle the body of a teammate; or
(c) trip an opponent; or
(d) push or throw his body against a teammate to aid him in an attempt to obstruct an opponent or to recover a loose ball.
A case study on the same page illustrates exactly what Ford did with Peterson:
A.R. 12. 2
Second and goal on B2. Runner A1 gets to the line of scrimmage and is stopped but A2, who is behind him, pushes him from behind and shoves him over the goal line. Ruling: Touchdown.
Peterson gets most of the credit for bulling into the end zone after getting upright, but if it weren't for Ford, he might never have gotten past the 5-yard line. And in this case, there was nothing illegal about what happened.