Tuck rule gone, helmet rule approved

Updated: March 20, 2013, 5:34 PM ET
By John Clayton and Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- NFL owners went into a speed voting mode before concluding their winter meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday, voting to eliminate the tuck rule, penalize crown of the helmet hits by players who are outside of the tackle box or at least three yards downfield and change the replay challenge rule so that a bad coaches' challenge doesn't prevent officials from reviewing the play.

The tuck rule change had only one dissenting vote, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The New England Patriots and Washington Redskins abstained, but the remaining 29 teams, including the Oakland Raiders, voted to end the rule, a call that cost the Raiders a chance to go to the Super Bowl in 2001.

Tom Brady was the famous beneficiary of the rule in that 2001 playoff game between the Patriots and the Raiders. A ball that appeared to be a Brady fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, and the Patriots went on to win the game.

Now, if a quarterback starts to bring the football back toward his body while trying to throw, it will be ruled a fumble instead of an incomplete pass.

"We didn't think it was necessary to make that change," Steelers president Art Rooney said. "We were happy with the way it's been called."

The Raiders celebrated the tuck rule's demise with a three-word tweet: "Adios, Tuck Rule."

The most debate came with the crown of the helmet hits rule, which will affect running backs the most. As of Tuesday, the competition committee felt as though it was only one vote away from passing. After further discussion, the vote was 31-1 with the Cincinnati Bengals voting against.

It will now be a 15-yard penalty if a player who is more than three yards downfield or outside of the tackle box delivers a blow with the crown of his helmet. If the offensive and defensive player each lowers his head and uses the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.

"It'll certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "One of the questions I ask a lot is who gains from this, offense or defense? And it's a toss-up as to which side of the ball has the advantage on this rule, if any. The main thing is it's pro-health and safety, and that's the big thing."

The owners discussed simply using fines on ball carriers to eliminate the tactic but instead voted to make the rule change.

"Jim Brown never lowered his head," Rooney said with a smile. "It can be done."

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, who called rule proposal "absurd" Sunday on Twitter, reacted to the rule's adoption with similar disdain in a series of tweets Wednesday.

"Wow so they really passed that rule...last time I checked football was a contact sport. Calling bank now to set up my lowering the boom fund," he wrote.

He followed that up with: "Next year they'll probably be a no jumping over defenders rule... #loweringtheboomfund" and "Guess I'll get my fine money ready."

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the league's competition committee, said the rule doesn't prohibit a runner from using his facemask or hairline part of his helmet.

Commissioner Roger Goodell was eager to get the helmet rule approved, and there was talk the vote would be tabled until May if the rule change didn't have enough support.

But after watching videos of the play that clearly showed the differences in legal and illegal moves by ball carriers, the owners voted yes -- and then applauded the decision, something Fisher said is "rare."

"We had discussions with the players association and the players themselves, the coaches' subcommittee," Fisher said. "A lot of people talked to us about this rule and how to roll it out in our game."

Owners easily passed a change in the replay challenge rule that fixes a problem when coaches challenge a play that would be automatically reviewed in the replay booth. Under the new rule, a coach who challenges such a play is charged a timeout when he throws a challenge flag. If the play is overturned, the coach gets back the challenge. It remains a 15-yard penalty if a coach challenges a booth reviewable play.

Under the previous rule, if a coach challenged a reviewable play, there would be a 15-yard penalty and no review.

The only proposal that was tabled was whether to open the regular season as early as Wednesday. The NFL likes to open the regular season on the Thursday before the regular Sunday opener, and it likes to have the Super Bowl winner have a home game on that night.

The Baltimore Orioles have a home game Thursday, Sept. 5, and Major League Baseball appears to be unwilling to alter the time to a day game to allow the Baltimore Ravens to play that night.

On Tuesday, the NFL voted to prohibit teams from loading more than six defenders on one side of the snapper on extra points and field goals along with giving a 15-yard penalty if a blocker does a peel-back block inside the tackle box. The peel-back rule applies mostly to screen passes and rollouts.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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