NFL Owners Approve Helmet-Contact Ban, Eliminate ‘Tuck Rule’

National Football League owners approved a new rule that prohibits a ball carrier from lowering his head and using the crown of his helmet to make contact with a defender in the open field.

The rule, aimed at improving player safety, had been recommended by the NFL’s competition committee and will be implemented for the 2013 season. Owners approved the rule 31-1, according to NFL.com.

The owners also voted in Phoenix to abolish the so-called tuck rule, which resulted in apparent fumbles by quarterbacks to be ruled incompletions under wording that had been in place since 1999. Now, if a quarterback loses possession of the ball after finishing his throwing motion and opting not to pass, it will be ruled a fumble. It would still be ruled an incompletion if a quarterback loses the ball while his arm is in a throwing motion.

The tuck rule was best remembered for officials overturning a fumble by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the playoffs after the 2001 season. The Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders 16-13 in the snowy American Football Conference divisional game and went on to win the first of three Super Bowl titles behind Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

The vote to eliminate the tuck rule was 29-1-2, with the Patriots and Washington Redskins abstaining and the Pittsburgh Steelers against the change, NFL.com said.

Helmet Contact

Under the helmet rule, a player can’t initiate contact with an opposing player using the crown of his helmet if running more than three yards downfield and outside the area where his offensive tackles line up. Such a play would now result in a 15- yard penalty.

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“If the crown comes down, we’re going to have issues,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the competition committee, said at a news conference two days ago. “Basically, the best way to phrase this is we’re bringing the shoulder back in the game. We want to bring the shoulder back to the game. We all know the helmet is a protective device; it’s not designed to be used like it’s being used as of late and we want to protect our players, specifically out in space.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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