At the 2017 NFL owners meeting this past spring, owners voted to approve a rule change proposed by the Competition Committee that disallows teams to intentionally commit multiple fouls during the same down designed to manipulate the clock. Officially, the new rule (12-3-3) reads:
A team may not commit multiple fouls during the same down in an attempt to manipulate the game clock.
Penalty: For multiple fouls to run off time from the game clock: Loss of 15 yards, and the game clock will be reset to where it was at the snap. After the penalty is enforced, the game clock will start on the next snap.
This could be a rule change that didn’t catch your attention when we listed it earlier this year, but if you’re a fan of the 2016 Bengals, Ravens, 49ers or Saints, it certainly did.
In week 11 of the 2016 season, Ravens punter Sam Koch took the ball 23 yards backwards — to the end zone — to take an intentional safety. During this maneuver, the Ravens were also able to commit multiple holding penalties in order to keep the clock running, which didn’t allow the Bengals enough time to make a significant play resulting in a score.
And before that, during week 9, the 49ers coach Chip Kelly employed a similar tactic by instructing his defensive line to commit intentional holds on Saints offensive linesmen in an effort to keep the clock running. Because the rules in 2016 didn’t allow for time to be put back on the clock, the intentional holds could be used to run out the clock, which prevented the Saints from scoring by not allowing them enough time.
Oddly, it was the Ravens and 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII when the Ravens took an intentional safety at the end of the game (video). There were no flags on that play however, despite massive holding being perpetrated by the offensive line.
After the incident in San Francisco, the NFL took steps to stem any similar plays, and instructed officials to deem such tactics as palpably unfair acts, but only after a warning. It could be argued that the Ravens exploited a gap in this addendum to the rule in 2016, as the fouls occurred at the end of the game. But it’s clear that in 2017, it won’t be allowed.
One important enforcement point: this does not apply in all cases where multiple fouls are called within the same down. It must be judged by the officials to be a deliberate effort to manipulate the clock.