The fumble-through-the-end-zone rule must go (but it likely never will)

The worst rule in football reared its ugly head on Thursday night. It will continue to do so from time to time, indefinitely.

And it really is a bad rule. If the offensive team fumbles the ball and it bounces into and out of the end zone, the defensive team gets possession. Not at the spot of the fumble. On their own 20.

If, of course, the fumble goes out of bounds one millimeter from the end zone, the offense gets the ball at the spot of the fumble.

It makes no sense. Maybe, at one point, it did. Hell, at one point in the history of the game, an incomplete pass that landed in the end zone resulted in a touchback and possession for the defense.

In the modern NFL, where the action is premised on gaining yards and scoring points, it's an arbitrary award for the defense, when the defense has done nothing to secure possession. It's also an unreasonable punishment for the offense for simply losing its grip on the ball.

If often happens because the player reaches the ball toward the goal line. Saints quarterback Derek Carr has done it not once but twice during his time with the Raiders. Under the existing rules, it's a fairly clear coaching point when tempted to put the ball in one hand and lunge for the end zone.

And that's what every coach needs to tell every player. Don't reach the ball toward the goal line. Ever.

There's never been a serious push to change the rule, largely because it has never been applied in a major postseason game. In the regular season, it will make a stir until the next bright, shiny object comes along. Folks will complain about what happened last night when Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson lost possession of the ball into and out of the end zone. By Sunday, it's game day. It's a hard reset for the NFL.

Until the next controversy. Followed by the next bright, shiny object.

If/when it ever mars the outcome of a Super Bowl, there might be a push to change it. Even then, there's a strange mindset in some league circles when it comes to quirky rules that cut both ways. When a team gets burned by a bad rule, that team tends to think that, the next time around, it will benefit from it.

And that's the basic reality of this specific rule. For every team that gets unreasonably screwed by it, another team unfairly benefits from it.

Still, if the millions of casual fans who watch only the Super Bowl witness a moment like the one that played out last night and start asking questions about why in the world the other team gets the ball under those circumstances, maybe they'll finally change the rule.

The right approach would be to give the offense the ball at the spot of the fumble. A worst-case compromise would be to give the defense possession not at the 20, but at the spot of the fumble.

Again, don't count on it ever happening. With only one Super Bowl per year, it will likely be many years before that rule ever happens on Big Shield's biggest stage.