It is a rule that rarely comes into play. In fact it is discussed far more often than it actually happens in the game. But the time the so-called Tuck Rule was applied in a snowy Raiders—Patriots game was enough to get fans of all stripes to unite in cause to demand the repeal.
What many perceived as a fumble recovery by the Raiders, sealing the fate of the Patriots, was overturned by a replay review. The fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was now a harmless incomplete pass; the Patriots had new life to tie the score and then win in overtime.
The Tuck Rule gave Brady an advantage, because as he reconsidered throwing a pass, he had not yet tucked the ball back to his body, and thus, was by the letter of the rule, still engaging in a forward pass.
At the time, director of officiating Mike Pereira â€” whose title was later elevated to vice-president of officiating â€” defended the rule because it gave objective criteria to referees to determine when a quarterback, who withdraws from a pass attempt during a throwing motion, becomes a runner again. Tucking the ball back towards the body is an objective criteria, but the rulebook (Rule 3, Section 21, Article 2) considers the end of the tucking motion, and not the start of, as the conclusion of the throwing motion:
Note 2: When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his hand starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body.
Fast forward to this past weekend, when the Tuck Rule again reversed a fumble recovery for the defense. The Ravens dominated the game, so the missed opportunity was inconsequential to the result.
Pereira now works as a rules analyst for Fox Sports, and he has reconsidered his position on the Tuck Rule:
This was clearly a correct reversal, but is it time to look at this rule because Cassel was not attempting to pass the ball when it came loose.
I think it’s time to change this rule. A pass should only be ruled incomplete if the ball comes loose in the actual act of passing the ball. If it comes loose in the tucking motion, then it should be a fumble.
I would support a rule change, although it took me a long time to get to this point. I’m sure it’s no consolation to the many Raiders fans around the country.
Pereira is not just any opinion, however. Even though he no longer holds a position with the league, the NFL’s Competition Committee will likely take note of Pereira’s shift and suggest a change to the rule. Pereira’s influence has seemed to increase as a now-independent auditor of the league’s officiating.
And, maybe people will stop bothering referee Walt Coleman about the correct call he made on that day.
Pereira also summarized other calls made during the wild card games, which you can compare to our analysis (part 1 | part 2).