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NFL eliminates Tuck Rule

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 3:24 p.m.

PHOENIX — The NFL's infamous tuck rule might have cost the Steelers a Super Bowl, but they still voted Wednesday to keep it in place.

They were the only team that did.

Unfortunately for the Oakland Raiders, the move came 11 years too late.

The modification means that if a quarterback is bringing the ball back to his body, such as on a pump fake — rather than attempting to deliver a pass — and drops the ball, it will be ruled a fumble rather than an incomplete pass. The rule, seldom known at the time, was a key to the Patriots beating the Raiders in a playoff game during quarterback Tom Brady's 2001 rookie season.

Brady appeared to have fumbled on a hit by Charles Woodson, but the controversial play was ruled to be an incompletion. The Patriots later completed a game-winning field-goal drive.

The Patriots upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh a week later then won the first of their three Super Bowls with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach.

The tuck rule elimination passed by a 29-1 vote with the Patriots and Redskins abstaining.

“I just didn't think it was necessary to make the change. We were satisfied that the rule was being officiated the right way and why change something that's not broken as far as we're concerned,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. “(But) I guess everybody thinks it's a good change.”

The league Wednesday also prohibited running backs and defensive players from using the crown of the helmet to initiate contact in the open field. Some running backs have used their head as a weapon to pile-drive forward and gain extra yardage. However, the rule change does not prohibit such contact by a running back using his face mask.

“I think the focus is going to be on the more extreme hits and the more extreme plays,” Rooney said. “That's our understanding, and obviously we won't know until they start to enforce the rule. I think the focus really is on some of the video they showed us that really was a pretty obvious kind of a play. I think, at least initially, it will be focused on really the obvious crown-of-the-helmet-type hits.”

The rule passed after it appeared Tuesday it might be held up for further discussion at meetings this spring.

“I think there is legitimate concern about how it's going to be officiated and how it's going to be taught,” Rooney said. “But somebody said (Tuesday) night that Jim Brown never lowered his head when he was a runner, so it can certainly be done. … Jim Brown, when he needed to run over somebody, he lowered his shoulder. He didn't lower his head. That's what we have to teach these guys to do.”

The helmet rule passed, 31-1. The Bengals opposed.

Rooney said clubs agreed that the helmet issue needed to be addressed. Determining the best way to do it took time.

“It really was a question of what was the right way to address this issue. There were a lot of discussions about different ways to do it,” Rooney said. “Really, there was a lot of concern on the coaches' part in terms of putting the burden on the officials to take it out of the game. There was a lot of discussion about maybe we should just try to teach this out of the game and put it in the coaches' hands. So there was some support for that initially, but as they say in the end, I think everybody decided this was the right way to do it.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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