NFL owners approved all six of the rule changes proposed by the Competition Committee, votes that eliminated the "Tuck Rule" and the implementation of a rule making it illegal for ball-carriers and tacklers to lead with the crown of their helmets when both players are outside of the tackle box.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, owners voted 31-1 to approve the crown-of-the-helmet safety measure, which has drawn the ire of NFL running backs, who feel that the new rule will take away an instinctual defense mechanism.
"In order to lower your shoulder you obviously have to lower your head. It’s a way of protecting yourself from a tackler and a way to break tackles. You can’t change the instinctive nature of running the football," Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
The new rule, which includes a loss of 15 yards (and an automatic first down if committed by the defense) reads as follows:
"It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul."
The elimination of the "Tuck Rule" also passed by an overwhelming 29-1 margin. Two teams abstained from that vote, including the New England Patriots, who famously benefited from the obscure rule during a 2001 AFC divisional playoff win over the Oakland Raiders, and the Washington Redskins.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was sacked by former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, who dislodged the ball from Brady's hands. Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert recovered the ball, which would have sealed the win for the Raiders, but referee Walt Coleman determined that Brady was attempting to bring the ball back to his body and that it was an incomplete forward pass, negating the fumble. The Patriots would go on to tie the game, which they won in overtime.
Under the rule change, if a player loses possession of the football while attempting to bring it back to his body, it will be ruled a fumble.
Additional rules that passed on Wednesday:
• Replay rules will now allow a review to take place when a coach challenges a play that is automatically reviewed by the replay official. Previously, if a coach threw a challenge flag on an automatically reviewable play, the team would be penalized 15 yards and no review would take place.
• "Peel back" blocks below the waist are now illegal in the tackle box. Penalties for this infraction will be a loss of 15 yards.
• During a field goal or extra point attempt, the defense may not have more than six players one the line of scrimmage on either side of the long-snapper. These illegal formation penalties will be a loss of five yards from the previous spot. Defensive teams cannot push their teammates into the offensive formation on field goal or extra point attempts. Violations of this "unnecessary roughness" penalty will incur a loss of 15 yards from the previous spot.
The measures essentially mean that, at the time of the snap, long-snappers are classified as "defenseless players".
• Tight ends and H-backs are now permitted to wear jersey numbers 40-49.
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