NFL owners may end tuck rule, amend replays

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PHOENIX -- The tuck rule, the once-obscure-but-much-debated regulation that helped the New England Patriots go to the Super Bowl in 2001, could disappear.

Instant replay, which already interrupts the game more times than the Steelers would care to see, could be amended so that a coach without a challenge could still manage to have a play reviewed.

And defenses probably will be glad to know that running backs such as Adrian Peterson soon may be punished for leading with the crown of their helmet, instead of the other way around.

Those are some of the several rule proposals that could be adopted this week when the National Football League owners convene for their annual meeting, which begins today.

The tuck rule, though, probably will draw the most attention. It is one of six proposed rule changes from the league's competition committee that may be abandoned.

"What is happening is a great majority of these plays are appropriately called fumbles," Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said on a conference call. "Then officials go into replay and look at it, and under the rule if the tuck had not been completed [the call] has to be reversed. They think they can call it and can understand when a passer has lost control of the ball, so we felt more comfortable proposing the rule."

The tuck rule became one of the most infamous in the league in 2001 when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeared to lose a fumble late in an AFC playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. The call was reversed under the tuck rule, and the Patriots went on to beat the Raiders and advance to the AFC Championship game against the Steelers at Heinz Field.

Last season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared to be the benefactor of the tuck rule when his throwing arm was hit by New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, causing a fumble. Linebacker Michael Boley returned the fumble for a touchdown.

Roethlisberger's arm appeared to be going forward, but replay challenge upheld the call on the field and the touchdown return stood.

"I think, basically, we will at least potentially make it a little easier to officiate in terms of the action of the quarterback bringing the ball back to his body is no longer considered part of the pass," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "I guess the bottom line is that it will be easier for a quarterback to fumble the ball than the other result."

The league also will look at a proposal that allows a team that has no more video challenges to still have the play reviewed, albeit with a 15-yard penalty.

One of the reasons for the proposed change is what happened on Thanksgiving when Detroit Lions Coach Jim Schwartz challenged what officials ruled was an 81-yard scoring run by Houston's Justin Forsett.

Because all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, Schwartz negated use of replay when he threw the red challenge flag. Even though Forsett was clearly down by contact during the run, the touchdown stood and the Texans won in overtime.

The new proposal is designed to ensure the play is reviewed and the right call is made. However, the coach making the illegal challenge will draw a 15-yard penalty. Challenges that are deemed illegal are when a team is out of timeouts, has used all its challenges, is in the final two minutes of a half or overtime and on scoring plays or turnovers.

If a coach would challenge in the final two minutes of a half or overtime, he will lose a timeout.

"I think, from our position, we feel there are probably too many replays at this point in our game," Rooney said. "I am not sure if I am expecting any change in that regard at this meeting, but I think we will at least try to start a conversation about whether we are getting to the point that we are having too many replays."

Maybe the most controversial new rule will be the one that would prohibit a running back from using the crown of his helmet outside the tackle box -- a proposal that could be targeted at Peterson, Minnesota's record-setting running back.

Under the new rule -- one of three safety-related proposals put before the owners -- the runner would be penalized 15 yards for forcible contact with the crown of his helmet when he chooses to lower his head outside the tackle box. Incidental contact inside the tackle box will still result in no foul.

"We really think the time has come that we need to address the situation in space when a runner or a tackler has a choice as to how they are going to approach the opponent," McKay said. "We are trying to protect the runner or the tackler from himself in that instance."

Another player-safety proposal is the elimination of peel-back blocks by an offensive player inside the tackle box. The proposal is to protect defensive ends who are pursuing the ball from the back side.

"We preferably would support going a little further in cut-back blocks, but that is not being proposed at this point by the committee," Rooney said.

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Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac


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