NFL owners went into a speed voting mode before concluding their winter meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday, voting to eliminate the tuck rule, penalize crown of the helmet hits by players who are outside of the tackle box or at least three yards downfield and change the replay challenge rule so that a bad coaches' challenge doesn't prevent officials from reviewing the play.
The tuck rule change had only one dissenting vote, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The New England Patriots and Washington Redskins abstained, but the remaining 29 teams, including the Oakland Raiders, voted to end the rule, a call that cost the Raiders a chance to go to the Super Bowl in 2001.
Tom Brady was the famous beneficiary of the rule in that 2001 playoff game between the Patriots and the Raiders. A ball that appeared to be a Brady fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, and the Patriots went on to win the game.
Now, if a quarterback starts to bring the football back toward his body while trying to throw, it will be ruled a fumble instead of an incomplete pass.
"We didn't think it was necessary to make that change," Steelers president Art Rooney said. "We were happy with the way it's been called."
The Raiders celebrated the tuck rule's demise with a three-word tweet: "Adios, Tuck Rule."
The most debate came with the crown of the helmet hits rule, which will affect running backs the most. As of Tuesday, the competition committee felt as though it was only one vote away from passing. After further discussion, the vote was 31-1 with the Cincinnati Bengals voting against.
It will now be a 15-yard penalty if a player who is more than three yards downfield or outside of the tackle box delivers a blow with the crown of his helmet. If the offensive and defensive player each lowers his head and uses the crown of the helmet to make contact, each will be penalized.
"It'll certainly make our runners aware of what we expect relative to use of the helmet," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "One of the questions I ask a lot is who gains from this, offense or defense? And it's a toss-up as to which side of the ball has the advantage on this rule, if any. The main thing is it's pro-health and safety, and that's the big thing."
The owners discussed simply using fines on ball carriers to eliminate the tactic but instead voted to make the rule change.
"Jim Brown never lowered his head," Rooney said with a smile. "It can be done."