NFL likely to eliminate controversial, confusing tuck rule

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loses the

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady loses the ball after being brought down by Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson, right, while Greg Biekert moves to recover the ball in the fourth quarter of their AFC Division Playoff game in Foxboro, Mass. The play was appealed, and the Patriots retained possession. The Patriots went on to win, 16-13, in overtime. (Jan. 19, 2002) (Credit: AP)

More than a decade after it helped decide an AFC playoff game and the course of two franchises, one of the NFL's most arcane statutes may be on its way out of the rule book. A recommendation to eliminate "the tuck rule," as it is known, is among six rule and three bylaw changes that the competition committee will present next week at the owners' meetings in Arizona.

The proposed change will make it a fumble if a quarterback loses control of the ball while bringing it back into his body. It will still be an incomplete pass if the quarterback's arm is going forward while he loses control of the ball.

"We're going to clean this up and eliminate the tuck rule, so to speak," Rick McKay, Falcons president & CEO and competition committee chairman, said in a conference call Thursday.

The tuck rule was adopted in 1999. It became a household term -- if not completely understood in many households -- after it cost the Raiders a fumble recovery late in a January 2002 divisional playoff game against the Patriots, who went on to win the Super Bowl. It has been a source of confusion and agitation for fans, broadcasters and coaches since.

Other rule proposals that will be voted on include eliminating the use of the crown of the helmet to begin contact outside the tackle box by the runner or defender, a rule McKay said is "the first to deal with players other than in a defenseless category"; the removal of a 15-yard penalty for coaches challenging calls they are not allowed to challenge, as happened to the Lions' Jim Schwartz in a Thanksgiving Day game; restrictions on rushing PATs and field goals that will give the long snapper defenseless player status; the ruling of an incomplete pass will be reviewable all the way through a possible fumble and recovery by the defense; and the elimination of peel-back blocks even within the tackle box, where they are currently allowed.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said the league will enforce the rule that requires players to wear thigh and knee pads at all times. Players will be taken off the field if they do not comply, he said, and not allowed to return until they do.

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