Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sports Mythbustin', Episode 2: The Pats Were Saved by the "Tuck Rule"

Now that we have totally demolished the Spygate argument, it's time to explode yet another myth about the New England Patriots: The Tuck Rule.

This one's a bit harder for Patriot haters to use against us. The rule had been on the books for three years by the time this play happened, and the rule was interpreted correctly by the official. The whole thing was legitimate, and no one seriously questions that. Still, they've managed to conjure up a few feeble attacks:

"The Pats got lucky"
"The rule is stupid/unfair"
"The Pats were saved by an obscure technicality in the rulebook"
"The official was biased/in the Patriots' pocket"
Merely stating, "It was a fumble"

That last one is particularly offensive. An unmistakably-worded rule clearly says that it's an incomplete pass, not a fumble, and the response is, "It was a fumble." No, idiot, it was not a fumble. Read the rule.

Regarding the Patriots "getting lucky", let me ask you this: Is it "luck" that pass interference is against the rules? Seems to me that many TDs have been scored thanks to that rule.

"Of course not," you say. "The rule was written for a reason. You can't impede a player who's trying to catch a pass."

Yes, and the "Tuck Rule" was written for a reason, too! Or do you think some NFL official just came up with it when he was bored one Tuesday afternoon? This rule has been changed several times over the years. The league struggled with it for a long time, because it was extremely difficult for an official to make a split-second determination, at game speed, as to whether the QB had finished the passing motion and had begun pulling the ball back towards his body. On the other hand, it was very easy to see whether or not he had tucked the ball away. And before you remind me, I'm well aware that the rule was changed in March of 2013 by a 29-1 vote (with the Patriots and Raiders abstaining, natch), and that the rule now says that, if the QB loses possession of the football while attempting to bring it back to his body, it will be ruled a fumble. In otherwords, we're back to asking officials to make instantaneous decisions based on subtle arm and hand movements.

Simply, this rule is neither "stupid" nor "unfair". It was intentionally changed to prevent referees from having to make tough judgment calls. There was specific logic behind it. Luck played no part in what happened, if "luck" even exists at all.

I'm also not feeling the "obscure technicality" argument. The rule was written for a very specific circumstance, and when that circumstance occurred, the rule was applied properly. It doesn't happen  every day, so consequently, the rule is not used often. That doesn't make it any less important, any less of a rule, or any less valid. The change was properly approved by the NFL owners, just like everything else in the rulebook. If you think it's wrong, tell me why. But don't try to invalidate it because it's not used every week.

And, BTW, exactly what does "technicality" mean in this context? Does it mean that it deals with a very specific set of policies that must be enforced exactly? In that case, yes, this is a technicality--and so is 90% of the entire NFL rulebook. Guess what, guys? "Technicality" or not, a rule is a rule is a rule--and must be followed precisely. And it was.

For those of you who think referee Walt Coleman was biased, being bribed, or was a part of a huge conspiracy to help the Patriots, or send the Raiders home, your argument (aside from being silly and completely unfounded) is irrelevant. Biased or not, and there's no reason to think he was, the correct call was made. It's been reviewed 534,277 times and confirmed by everyone. There was no mistake. Prove me wrong.

But, speaking of irrelevance, here's the real news.

Nothing I've said up to this point matters. It doesn't matter what you or I think about the Tuck Rule. It doesn't matter what the rulebook says, and it doesn't matter whether you say it was a fumble or not. None of it matters in the slightest bit.

Why? Because of a little rule that reads like this:

"In covering the passer position, Referees will be particularly alert to fouls in which defenders impermissibly... use hands, arms, or other parts of the body to hit the passer forcibly in the head or neck area"
(NFL Rulebook, Section 2, Article 13, note 3)

Unlike the Tuck Rule, everybody knows this one, and everybody agrees it's legitimate. And, in case you weren't aware, it carries a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

"But there was no Roughing the Passer on that play," you are saying.

Oh, how incredibly wrong you are...

Well, well, well. What do you know? It seems Charles Woodson broke the rules--clearly and obviously. Brady took a big, and illegal, shot to the head before any fumble or incompletion could take place. 

The line of scrimmage on that play was the Oakland 42. This would have (and should have) given the Patriots a 1st-and-10 at the Oakland 27. This is actually two yards closer than the Oakland 29, from which Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-tying field goal.

It's funny to watch people try to explain this one away after watching the video. They can't possibly deny it, so they resort to nonsense like:

"It was incidental contact/Woodson didn't mean to hit him."
Oh really? How do you know what Woodson did or did not intend to do? At any rate, go back and read that rule again, and show me the part where it says, "this penalty only gets called when the guy meant to do it". Face it: No one knows or cares whether a defensive player meant to hit the QB. It's the pass rusher's responsibility to make sure his hands are nowhere near the quarterback's helmet.

"He didn't hit him that hard."
Look at the violent way Brady's head snaps to the side after he's been hit. I thought I was watching the Zapruder Film, for Christ's sake! The hit was plenty hard--and besides, severity of the blow doesn't matter: I've seen this penalty called when a defensive player swung his hand at a QB's head and missed altogether! You've got no leg to stand on here.

"The referee missed it. Refs miss calls all the time."
What exactly are you saying here? Does this mean the penalty didn't happen? Does it mean it suddenly became a clean play? Anyway, this argument misses the point: If you are trying to tell me that the Pats "got lucky", or were the beneficiary of a bad/obscure rule, you are wrong. The Raiders very nearly won the game on a flagrant Roughing the Passer non-call. Who was lucky, again?

As we now know, Adam Vinatieri was a clutch enough kicker to make a field goal from 47 yards out, on a snowy mess of a field, with the white stuff still coming down--so it turns out the Patriots didn't need those 15 yards. But that doesn't change the fact that they should have gotten them. 

Watch the video again. Watch it 100 times if you have to. Sooner or later, you'll admit, even if just to yourself, that a missed call easily could have cost the Patriots this game--wrongly.

And it had nothing to do with the Tuck Rule.


  1. The blow to the head rule wasn't in the rule books until YEARS after this season of football. Hell, the rules restricting corners to bumping/holding receivers wasn't even introduced until after 2004. The fact of the matter is that the patriots season, and perhaps dynasty, was saved by what appears to be a fumble being called an incomplete pass by the tuck rule. The hit to the head under 2000/2001 rules was legal. (The whole concussion scare didn't really start until Anquan Boldin took an awful hit while attmepting to catch a ball in 2006? and it was AFTER that in which the NFL instated rules penalizing 'blows to the head' and 'defensless receivers')

  2. False. I watched a Patriots game when Drew Bledsoe was still the QB (which I referenced here), and a defensive lineman took a swing at his head and MISSED altogether, and was still flagged for roughing. The NFL has cracked down on hits to the head in general, but the rule for QBs was on the books well before 2001. If you have links to the contrary please let me know, thanks -D.

  3. Weak Brother Dave.. "Forcibly" You're saying its forcible because the hand brushed the head and his head moved? Not buyin' it.

    1. I anticipated this argument and addressed it in the article:

      "He didn't hit him that hard."
      Look at the violent way Brady's head snaps to the side after he's been hit. I thought I was watching the Zapruder Film, for Christ's sake! The hit was plenty hard--and besides, severity of the blow doesn't matter: I've seen this penalty called when a defensive player swung his hand at a QB's head and missed altogether! You've got no leg to stand on here.