The Tuck rule is no more.
But there are now more safety provisions on how tacklers, and even offensive players, can hit opponents.
NFL owners passed all six of the proposed rule changes from the NFL Competition Committee, of which Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome is a member. The Ravens voted in favor of both the buzz-worthy rule changes.
The elimination of the Tuck rule ends what has been a controversial rule since 2002.
It was in part credited with the rise of the New England Patriots' reign because a critical fumble call was overturned when quarterback Tom Brady lost the ball against the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs. That helped the Patriots beat the Raiders on their way to their first of three Super Bowl titles.
The rule passed by a margin of 29-1 with Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and Redskins Owner Daniel Snyder abstaining, and Steelers Owner Art Rooney III voting against it.
The rule now states: "If, after an intentional forward movement of the hand, the player loses possession of the ball during an attempt to bring it back toward his body, it is a fumble."
The more controversial rule change was making it illegal for a tackler or runner to initiatesforcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box. Now, a 15-yard penalty will be issued for such contact.
It's yet another player safety precaution from the league and passed by a 31-1 margin with the Cincinnati Bengals as the only dissenter.
"The membership was really, really excited," said St. Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the NFL Competition Committee. "One of the few times that you have heard people clap. This is a very important step in our continuing efforts to emphasize player safety. Our game is safe and has been getting safer over time."
Running backs across the league, including Chicago’s Matt Forte, spoke out against the rule, but the league is confident that players will adjust once the rule is understood.
When speaking to BaltimoreRavens.com on Monday before being fully briefed on the rule change, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said he was "puzzled" by it just like fans. Bisciotti spoke in support of running backs.
"It doesn't seem fair when [they have] the shortest career, they take the most pounding and now you're telling them not to be the aggressor in that one-on-one situation out in the flat or down the field," Bisciotti said.
"I don't think there are enough of those shots in a year to warrant outlawing it and turning it into penalties, fines and suspensions. I think these guys are just the work horses of the NFL and it doesn't get any easier for them."
Bisciotti was convinced, however, and voted in favor of the rule. The league looked at tape of every single play from two weeks of last season. They determined that the new rule would have been enforced 11 times in those two weeks. About half would have been on offensive players and half on defensive.
"I just don't think it's that big of a change," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "As coaches, we've never taught the crown of the helmet. There's no coach that has taught the crown of the helmet. It's just not part of football, never has been."
Harbaugh brought up one point that will be interesting to watch going forward. With the use of replay, the NFL can easily determine such illegal hits. But what will NFL officials see in real time?
"In all fairness it's going to be tough on the officials, it's going to be tough to make that determination at live speed with one look," Harbaugh said. "That's something they're going to work really hard to try to do."
The league said it will show referrees a lot more tape on what is and is not considered an illegal crown-of-the-helmet hit with emphasis on what is not. For example, safety Bernard Pollard's knockout hit on New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley in the AFC championship would not have been deemed illegal.
Four other rule changes passed:
- A challenge is tied to a timeout. If a coach challenges a play, they use a timeout. If the coach wins, they get the timeout back. If not, they lose it. If a coach challenges a play and doesn't have a timeout, it's a 15-yard penalty but the play is still reviewed. Previously, the play would not be reviewed if the coach made a challenging error. That was deemed "too harsh" by the league.
- During a punt, field-goal attempt or free kick, no more than six defending players may be on either side of the snapper at the snap. Defenders can also not push teammates into the offensive line. This is a player safety measure.
- Tight ends and H-backs can use the jersey numbers 40-49.
- 4A player who is in the tackle box when the ball is snapped cannot initiate contact on the side and below the waist of an opponent if the blocker is moving toward his own end line. This makes the "peel back" block illegal even for those inside the tackle box, and a loss of 15 yards.