The Most Controversial Rule in NFL History


NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble. This rule was introduced in 1999 by the NFL that would become famously known as the “Tuck Rule.” 

January 19, 2002, a rule was called that would go down as the most controversial call in NFL history, a call that was never heard of known as the “Tuck Rule”. The 2001 AFC Divisional Round featured the 10-6 Oakland Raiders taking on the 11-5 New England Patriots – the winner would move on to the AFC Championship in hopes of winning the Lombardi Trophy. The 2-seed Patriots had home-field advantage and it was a 25°F match-up that included snow throughout the game.

With 1:50 left in the 4th quarter, the Patriots were down 13-10 and the quarterback was Tom Brady who was just in his second season in the NFL. Brady and the Patriots were lined up in a shotgun formation on a 1st and 10 at Oakland’s 41-yard line, Brady hiked the ball and dropped back for a pass. Raider cornerback Charles Woodson would blitz and hit Brady forcing the ball to be popped out of Brady’s hands resulting in linebacker Greg Biekert recovering the ball setting up what would have been a victory for Oakland.

Charles Woodson (24) hits Tom Brady (12), start of the infamous “Tuck Rule”, Matt Campbell, AFP

“As the refs gathered I started to hear something about a tuck rule,” said Jon Gruden, head coach of the Raiders. “I’m hearing football language that I’ve never heard before and I’ve been in football my entire life.”

As Brady began to walk off the field in anger as he had just lost the Patriots the game all of the referees gathered around and decided to review the play as there was concern it might have been an incomplete pass. 

After a brief review head referee, Walt Coleman announced that Brady’s arm was going forward in a throwing motion as he was hit resulting in an incomplete pass. This gave the Patriots back the ball and a chance to tie the game or even win it. Brady would go on to complete a 13-yard pass to David Patten, setting up Adam Vinatierifor a game-tying 45-yard field goal. The Patriots would go on to win the game in overtime 16-13 as Vinatieri made a 23-yard field goal. This was the start of the Patriots Dynasty as the Brady-Belichick duo would go on to win their first of six Super Bowls and their first of nine Super Bowl appearances.

The Tuck Rule was only called once prior to being called in the Raider vs Patriots game and it was during the week 2 of the 2001 regular season where the New York Jets took on the New England Patriots. This time the Patriots were on the opposing end as they thought they had made Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde fumble but would be overturned as an incomplete pass.

The rule would be called only twice after it being called in the Raiders vs Patriots matchup. Once in 2005 during a regular-season game between the Washington Redskins and the Denver and the other call being in the 2011 wild card game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2013 the NFL competition committee proposed that the league owners eliminate the Tuck Rule the owners would go on to eliminate the rule in a 29-1 vote at the 2013 annual meeting.


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