Commentary

Time to chuck the tuck rule

Mailbag: Should Tebow change positions? Mike Tomlin and more

Originally Published: December 31, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Tom BradyMatt Campbell/AFP/Getty ImagesIt's been 10 years since the infamous tuck rule game, and the rule itself reared its ugly head again in Week 17.

One of the craziest parts of Week 17 came in the first half of three early games.

Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals, Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts were involved in "tuck rule" plays. What looked like fumbles turned into incompletions after replay reviews.

The tuck rule became familiar to most fans in a playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots in 2002. The Raiders appeared to have stripped Tom Brady for a fumble, but officials determined -- based on the tuck rule -- that Brady's arm moved forward enough to be considered an incomplete pass and that he was attempting to tuck it into his body. The interpretation on the arm moving forward is that the ball has to be at the belt buckle -- or tucked into the body -- to be a fumble.

Here's the rule: NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2: When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand 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.

In 2002, incomplete was the call. Change the rule, I say. What looks like a fumble should be a fumble.

What was so unusual about Sunday's flurry of tuck rule calls was that Fox officiating analyst Mike Pereira, the league's former head of officials, tweeted:


Unfortunately, I don't know whether the competition committee will review the tuck rule, but it should. No doubt the committee will change the replay challenge rule that prevents a replay if a coach throws the red flag on a play in which there is a booth review. The penalty against the coach will likely continue, but the penalty for throwing the flag won't negate the chance for replay. That should be fixed.

But most important, it's time to untuck the tuck rule.


From the inbox

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireTim Tebow may need to carry the ball to save his NFL career.

Q: Is there any chance that Tim Tebow might play as a tight end or short-yardage running or blocking back while being available as a backup or No. 3 QB?

Mike in Boise, Idaho

A: That's up to him, and he needs to make that a consideration. I was talking to a bunch of personnel men. Even though Tebow is only three years into the NFL, he's at the crossroads of his career. The Broncos traded him. The Jets will get rid of him. Jacksonville might be one of his last stops in the NFL unless he makes some concessions.

To entice more suitors than the Jaguars, Tebow might have to tell a team that he is willing to give up the quarterback position, something I doubt he would do. Tebow is a great football player, but he's not an accurate quarterback. Fans love him because they saw him make plays in Denver. What they didn't see were the practices when he struggled and consistently looked like the third-best quarterback on the field with both the Broncos and Jets.

His popularity creates undue pressure on other quarterbacks. Tebowmania brought down Kyle Orton and now Mark Sanchez. Unless he wants to throw his way into the Canadian Football League, he needs to look at other playing options to get NFL longevity.


Q: Isn't Mike Tomlin getting a free pass? Granted he has guided the Steelers to two Super Bowls, but since the last appearance, this team has regressed. The regression is obvious and has nothing to do with age. Almost everyone that didn't have a large contract received one after the last Super Bowl appearance. Since that time, the fat wallets have slowed this team's drive, heart, soul, discipline and ambition. I watch the games. I see it. I see a team showing up thinking they are good enough to win. Tomlin doesn't know how to deal with it. (Plus, he is a lousy fourth-quarter coach.) Chuck Noll once said he didn't motivate players, players motivate themselves. Not in today's NFL. I wonder what this team would be doing with Belichick as coach.

Glenn in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

A: One of the strengths of the Steelers as an organization is stability. They have had three coaches since 1969. Sure, Tomlin is getting his criticism. He's accepted blame for not making the playoffs. Something was missing from this team. Tomlin and the organization will try to fix it during the offseason, and that should be enough. Don't underestimate the impact of the Ben Roethlisberger injury. That injury stuffed the momentum the team was building as it got closer to the end of the season.


Q: I am trying to wrap my head around why T.O. does not have a job yet. Does he have some issues? Yes, but when I see someone like Randy Moss get a chance, I just don't understand it. Maybe you can help me out.

Christopher in Chicago

A: Happy to help. Terrell Owens is now 39 years old. Moss is four years younger and has always been faster. They are different receivers. Owens was great working the inside of the field and the sidelines. Moss stretches the field. Moss still has the deep speed to stay in the league, but look at his diminished playing time. He's on the field only 25 plays per game. He caught 28 passes for a 15.5-yard average this season. At 35, Moss is a role player, and a good one.

It's a different deal for Owens. Even though he ran a 4.4 for the Seahawks, he didn't show great separation from corners in camp. He dropped passes in his limited playing time in Seattle preseason games.

We all remember great players for what they did in the past, and a player's advancing age changes that, unfortunately. I wonder whether T.O. will get another chance. If he does, it will be more as a role player, and that's not his style.


Q: I have a question regarding player safety and concussions. With the rise in incidences of concussions, I cannot understand or comprehend why the NFL does not mandate an increase in the size or volume of an NFL football helmet. Sure, there is only so much current material technology you can pack into a current standard helmet, but why doesn't the league explore just making the helmet bigger? That means more padding and protection. Of course, it might not look proportional or as aesthetic as it did before, but player safety comes first, right? Currently, there are bigger helmets and more padding in Pop Warner football. As parents, we want to make sure 100 percent that kids play football concussion-free. So why not extend that to NFL players? I'm sure even a 10-20 percent increase in helmet size means better safety.

Landon in Mission, Texas

A: Your points are spot on. The NFL and the NFL Players Association have exhaustive studies on equipment. Lots of money is being invested on safety issues, and that is great.

But the league is at the stage at which it needs to start focusing and figuring out which equipment is the safest. That will still take time. It would be great if, by the end of the offseason, both sides endorsed certain styles of helmets and pads that are safer for the players. Once that happens, the league and the players will get word to colleges, high schools and all youth leagues. Believe me, they are working on it.


Q: I'm a big Bucs fan, and I was interested to see where you see our team? While I can understand no mention of Greg Schiano in your hot seat article, I found this season to be frustrating. The defense has been terrible.

Adam in Melbourne, Australia

A: The finish to the season has been bad for Schiano and the Bucs. They looked like a tired team. They were close to becoming the first team in NFL history to allow 300 passing yards per game. But change the coach? Not happening. He signed a five-year contract, and any coach who gets a contract that long gets to at least the fourth year. Schiano inherited a defense that lacked talent. He's got to build that back in the draft. His first mission was to establish discipline, and that was accomplished. The long contract keeps him off the hot seat.


Q: One trend that I noticed this season is players getting twisted by tacklers and fumbling the ball due to the pain of injury. In a few cases, these injuries have been season-ending (such as Santonio Holmes and Mario Manningham). Jacoby Jones suffered one of those tackles against the Giants, and it was ruled a fumble but later corrected by review as his knee was already down. Since the league is so dogged in its fight to improve player safety, do you see a rule implementation that reverses a fumble if replay clearly shows possession then relinquishing possession (without being stripped of the ball by a tackler) due to injury? Otherwise this may be an incentive for players to intentionally twist ankles and land on knees to force fumbles.

Derek in Baltimore

A: I don't see that happening, because it wouldn't be fair to the defense. If that rule were changed, then someone would have to judge the injury and determine whether it were serious enough to merit the fumble being overturned. Injuries happen. Putting a rule like that in wouldn't be a deterrent to a defender making a hit.


Q: Since Jim Schwartz's contract takes him to 2015, would you foresee any other changes within the Detroit Lions organization since falling from grace from last year's playoff push? For example, maybe the GM, the offensive coordinator or the defensive coordinator get the boot.

Ed in Waialua, Hawaii

A: Even though the contract should protect him from being fired, the organization is looking to review what went wrong and what to do. On the surface, it would appear that no change will happen. Schwartz would like to keep both coordinators -- Gunther Cunningham on defense and Scott Linehan on offense. General manager Martin Mayhew is expected to stay. But I don't know if ownership is totally on board with no change. This will be a situation in which ownership will meet with Schwartz and Mayhew to try to figure out what to do. Ownership rightfully isn't happy about missing the playoffs.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer