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NFL puts off changes in tuck rule

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ After 22 hours of discussion, the NFL's competition committee got nowhere on the tuck rule. So it tabled action for further review - and many more hours of discussion.

The controversial rule that determined when a ball knocked free from a quarterback becomes a fumble instead of an incomplete pass has drawn headlines since the playoffs. New England's Tom Brady lost the ball when hit in the final two minutes of a game against Oakland, which recovered what initially was ruled a fumble.

But referee Walt Coleman overruled himself after watching the instant replay, explaining that Brady stopped his throwing motion, but had not yet tucked away the ball away, making it an incomplete pass.

New England completed that drive with a tying field goal, won on another field goal in overtime, and two games later won the Super Bowl.

Almost since that January night in Foxboro, the rule has been examined. And re-examined. Yet not even the chairmen of the league's competition committee agree on what should be done.

``As we discussed it, it didn't get clearer, it got murkier,'' said Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, who doesn't want any changes. ``Replay has made things murky. The calls are made with players going 100 mph, then television slows it up so you can look at it frame by frame. Fans think the calls are obvious, but they're not.''

So McKay favors leaving the rule the way it is, meaning the ball must be fully tucked in before it can be ruled a fumble if it is knocked free.

Jeff Fisher, the other committee chairman and coach of the Tennessee Titans, would prefer something else. But he wasn't about to suggest anything radical, preferring to table a decision while the issue is investigated some more.

``You can't approach this thing in a knee-jerk fashion because of the effect it has on the game,'' he said. ``This has a big, big effect on the game.''

Fisher said the tuck rule will come up again at an owners' meeting in May.

A proposal to give the receiving team the ball on a botched onside kick was defeated. McKay said there will be no change, so the kicking team gets to try again from 5 yards back even if it incurred a penalty. McKay, who favored the change, said onside kicks ``are among the most exciting plays in the game.''

The owners did approve several changes Tuesday:

  • The tiebreaker system for division champions and wild cards was adjusted to conform with this season's realignment. There will be eight four-team divisions with Houston joining the league, so record against common opponents becomes more important. With as many as 14 common games in the 16-game schedule, common games becomes the third tiebreaker.
  • After a sack in the last two minutes of each half, the clock will not stop. For the rest of the game, the current rule applies: The clock stops for about 5 seconds while the ball is respotted.
  • The clock will not start on a kickoff until the receiving team touches the ball and advances it on the field of play. In the past, that rule was used only in the final 2 minutes of each half; during the rest of the game, the clock started when the ball was kicked.
  • Chop blocks will be illegal on kickoff and punt returns, as well as on plays from scrimmage.
  • Artificial noise, including music, in stadiums is banned once the play clock has started.
  • A player no longer can be ruled out of bounds when he touches a pylon unless he already touched the boundary line.
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