How to Fix the Most Hated Rule in the NFL

The touchback rule is both overly punitive and nonsensical.

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Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) loses the ball in the end zone after intercepting a pass. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The intersection of the sideline and the goal line is ground zero for one of the most frustrating rules in football: the touchback. Yahoo Sports laid out an example of how this rule affected a Redskins/Ravens game; when Ravens linebacker CJ Mosley “neared the left corner of the end zone” with possession of the ball, he “reached out and tried to extend to the goal line, but he lost the ball, which bounced into the end zone and out of bounds for a Redskins touchback.” Since Mosley’s fumble made the ball cross the goal line before going out of bounds, possession was turned over to the Redskins.

It’s a total B.S. rule that even columnists for the NFL’s website have called out, and while the league has considered changing it before, they haven’t, perhaps because they aren’t sure how to treat fumbles near the end zone. Luckily for them, The Ringer has a few suggestions.

In a recent article on the subject, The Ringer proposes a few ideas for replacing the current touchback rule. Treating it as a plain turnover, for example, would both punish the fumbling team without giving their opposition a ridiculous advantage. The downside to that idea is that no team (or coach) would support gaining possession on their own 6-inch line.

Another idea, borrowed from Canadian football, is to turn the touchback into a rouge. The current rules wouldn’t change in this scenario, but the fumbling team would get a point for the ball crossing the end zone. This method rewards getting the ball to the opposing goal line as it punishes fumbling the ball, although it also technically rewards a team for screwing up a play.

Those two possible corrections were the most interesting to us, but it’s worth reading the full article to see the rest of them. Correcting this rule is long overdue, and if nothing else, it’ll give John Harbaugh one less thing to yell about.

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