After any close game, there are moments to which either side can point as affecting the ultimate outcome. But whenever the tuck rule rears its head, Putin-style, in any contest of consequence, it stands out.
On Saturday night, the tuck rule was applied in a much different way than it was 11 years ago, under circumstances that made its impact on the final score far more remote. But the apparent ignorance of the clear provisions of the rule, both in real time and on replay review, was stunning.
It came in the third quarter, with the Broncos leading the Ravens, 28-21. Quarterback Peyton Manning cocked his arm to throw, and Ravens defensive end Pernell McPhee hit Manning just below the elbow just after Manning began his throwing motion.
The ball clearly started to come out, with Manning trying — in vain — to maintain possession as his arm and the ball went forward. But while super-slow-motion review suggests that at one point Manning had two hands on the ball, Peyton never was able to secure it. The ball ended up on the ground, Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger recovered, the replay process upheld the ruling, and the Ravens tied the game five plays later.
Again, the blunder came early enough in the game to make the consequence not as clear or dramatic as it was when the Patriots retained possession against the Raiders in the 2001 playoffs — and the Pats ultimately went on to win the game and their first of three Super Bowl trophies. But the ruling of a fumble in the latest case seemed to disregard completely the tuck rule.
Referee Bill Vidovich was not made available after the game to explain the decision made both in real time and on replay review. The league has provided no insight other than a citation to the rule.
According to Rule 8, Article 1, Section 1(b): “If, after an intentional forward movement of his hand, the passer loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body, it is a forward pass. If the player loses possession after he has tucked the ball into his body, it is a fumble.”
Not cited by the league was Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2, which emphasizes that “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.”
Manning’s arm was moving forward when the ball started to come out. The tuck rule doesn’t apply because the ball was out before Manning tucked the ball back into his body.
It’s a far easier and more logical application of the rule than 11 years ago, because Manning didn’t lose the ball after his arm had finished moving forward but before he had “tucked” the ball (like Tom Brady). Instead, the ball was clearly coming out after Manning’s arm started to move forward, and he never possessed it again.
And so, once again, the Patriots benefit from the tuck rule. Instead of having to go to Denver for the AFC title game, they get to host it.
While that may not benefit the Pats strategically, it definitely helps the team tuck some more cash into the coffers via another home game.