A lot of people don’t like the fumble into the end zone rule, wherein if a forward fumble goes out of bounds through an opponent’s end zone, the opponent is awarded possession with a touchback. I would imagine that a few Pittsburgh Steelers fans have become new converts to the belief that it’s ‘the worst rule in football’ after tight end Xavier Grimble’s fumble cost the team a touchdown on Sunday.
On the second drive during the Steelers’ 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, the offense drove down the field from their own 25 down to the Broncos’ 24 before facing a third and one. Ben Roethlisberger ran a play-action pass to get the ball out to Grimble in open space.
The tight end had a clear path toward the end zone, but there met Denver safety Will Parks, with whom he made clear after the game that he was eager to collide, saying that he was over-aggressive. The result was him losing possession of the ball inside the one-yard line, and it trickled through the end zone for a touchback.
Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, both former heads of officiating for the NFL, talked about the rule on FOX yesterday in light of what happened in the Steelers game, and if you hate it, you may not want to listen to what they had to say.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 27, 2018
“It’s simple. You put the ball into your opponents’ end zone, it’s a touchback, whether that’s a kickoff, a punt, an interception”, Blandino pointed out. “And we always talk about not complicating the rules, but if you change this and create exceptions, it becomes more complicated”.
Pereira was very much in agreement with his colleague, pointing out that fumbling out of bounds and fumbling out of the end zone are completely different. “Please differentiate this between a forward fumble out of bounds as opposed to a forward fumble into the end zone”, he said. “You put the ball into the end zone. And this is not the same as it going out of bounds in the field of play. So to me, it should be more punitive, and you should give up the ball”.
He added, “I get the fact that people don’t like it, but it is the right rule. And how about this? DON’T FUMBLE!”. Blandino echoed, “deal with it. Move on”.
The latter bits are not exactly very insightful explication into the merits of the rule, and the league has certainly never shied away from making rules more complicated, but ultimately the sentiment of moving on is correct, at least for now, when a rule change can always be proposed in the offseason.
The Steelers did move on and even held a 17-10 lead in the third quarter, so they certainly don’t have an excuse. This same play happens every year and people complain about it every year. Sometimes that leads to an eventual change, and frankly, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m guessing in this case, it will be the latter.