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NFL clarifying rules on trading penalty yards for time

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INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL competition committee is expected to come up with a clarification of what game officials can do to prevent what former coach Buddy Ryan was once famously punished for doing more than 20 years ago.

After the New York Giants were penalized for having 12 players on the field in the closing seconds of their Super Bowl XLVI victory over the New England Patriots, many fans and critics wondered if teams would take advantage of the rule in end-game situations. Can the league prevent teams from using extra defenders with only the risk of a 5-yard penalty when clock time is more valuable than yards?

Giants co-owner and competition committee member John Mara took the situation to an extreme Wednesday at the group's meeting.

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"I asked, 'What happens if a team puts 13 or 14 players out there? Is it still just a 5-yard penalty,' " Mara said.

He said his team wasn't using a loophole to get an extra defender on the field; instead defensive lineman Justin Tuck was simply late getting off the field as he ran to the sideline.

The situation harkens to 1989, when Ryan was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and once put 14 players on the field at the end of a 10-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to cover a punt. Ryan, who crudely called the unit his "Polish punt team," figured the formation worked perfectly to prevent a blocked punt or big return. Even if a penalty was called, precious seconds were burned off the clock.

Ryan, hardly the first coach to sneak an extra defender on the field, tried similar tactics in goal-line situations. As far back as the 1970s and 1980s, coaches would occasionally try to run the "4-4-4" defense, putting an extra defender on the field.

In 1989, the league fined Buddy Ryan and came up with a penalty known as the "palpably unfair act" to cover such egregious actions and others like it, such as a player coming off the sideline to make a tackle. Under the terms of a palpably unfair act, the officials have discretion over what the penalty can be, up to and including awarding a touchdown.

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Or do something as simple as putting time back on the clock.

"You could have the ref do a lot of things," Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "The situation is really already covered."

Still, Mara, Lewis and other committee members said the league expects to clarify this particular situation to prevent copy-cat occurrences , particularly in such important games.

"I think you'll see a clarification from the league on what's supposed to happen," Lewis said.

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