NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.
Ordinarily, if the quarterback drops or loses the football while he is bringing the ball forward in a passing motion, and the ball touches the ground, it is considered an incomplete pass. If the quarterback drops or loses the football at any other time, it is considered a fumble, as if any other player had dropped it.
The tuck rule was an exception to this rule. It applied if the quarterback moved his arm forward in a passing motion, but then changed his mind and tried to keep hold of the football rather than attempt a pass. In this situation, if the quarterback lost the ball while stopping his passing motion or bringing the ball back to his body, it was still considered a forward pass (and thus an incomplete pass if the ball hit the ground). Mike Pereira, the former director of officiating of the NFL, noted that the design of the rule obviates the need to consider the quarterback's intent, although the referee still must judge whether the initial forward movement of the arm was "intentional" on the part of the player or not.
Jets vs. Patriots (2001)
The tuck rule was called in Week 2 of an NFL regular season match-up on September 23, 2001, between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. In the waning minutes of the second quarter, Patriots' defensive end Anthony Pleasant apparently forced Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde to fumble the ball. Patriots' defensive end Richard Seymour made a recovery. The call was overturned upon review and ruled an incomplete with the tuck rule cited. The Jets would go on to tie the game with a field goal on that drive and then eventually win in overtime.
In the aftermath of the Tuck Rule Game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick referred to this game, telling ESPN, "I knew what the ruling should have been because we had dealt with that play a little bit earlier in the year on the other side of it."
Raiders vs. Patriots ("Tuck Rule Game") (2002)
In the closing moments of the fourth quarter of the game in a snowy Foxboro Stadium, with New England trailing by three points, New England quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass. After he had begun a passing motion, Brady apparently ceased his throwing motion, pulled his right hand down below his shoulder and had touched the ball to his left hand when, coming off the strong side corner blitz, Charles Woodson knocked the ball out of Brady's hands. Raiders middle linebacker Greg Biekert then fell on the loose football. The officials initially called the play a recovered fumble, which would have sealed the victory for the Raiders. But after instant replay, referee Walt Coleman reversed this call, declared the play an incomplete forward pass, and gave possession back to New England. In explaining the reversal to the stadium crowd and the television audience, the referee stated that the ball was moving forward at the time it was dropped. In later interviews, the referee stated that it was his explanation, not the reversal, that was in error; the ball was moving backwards when it was lost, but the tuck rule applied. Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri later tied the game with a dramatic 45-yard field goal, and the Patriots took advantage of the momentum they had seized, defeating the Raiders in overtime on another field goal and eliminating them from the playoffs. Two games later, the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI.
While the NFL has defended the call, not everybody has agreed. Bruce Allen, who ran the front office for the Raiders at the time of the game, still believes it was a fumble. "The rule itself doesn't bother me," he said. "But the way the rule is written, it was a fumble." Nevertheless, when the NFL's Competition Committee re-examined the rule after the 2001-2002 season, they made no changes to the rule.
Redskins vs. Broncos (2005)
The tuck rule was enforced in a regular season game on October 8, 2005 between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer lost the football while in the Broncos' own end zone. Referees initially called the play a fumble and awarded the Redskins a safety, but after instant-replay review cited the tuck rule in reversing the decision and calling it an incomplete pass. The Broncos eventually went on to win the game. Afterwards, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs said, "It makes no sense to me. It's the way it's worded. I think everybody probably sees that and says it's a bad rule." Pereira said the rule came up in games about 12 to 15 times per season and explained that despite its unpopularity, the competition committee had been unable to come up with a better rule.
Chiefs vs. Ravens (2011)
The tuck rule was also enforced in a NFL playoff game on January 9, 2011 between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. After this game, Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice-president for officiating, stated that he was no longer in support of the tuck rule.
In March 2013, the NFL competition committee proposed that league owners eliminate the tuck rule. The owners abolished the rule with a 29-1 vote at the 2013 annual meeting in Phoenix on March 20, 2013. The only team to vote against the elimination of the tuck rule was the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins abstained from the vote. Afterwards, referring obliquely to the 2002 Tuck Rule Game, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said, "I love the tuck rule, and forever will, and I know [longtime Raiders owner] Al Davis, may he rest in peace, is probably smiling.”
- Maske, Mark (October 15, 2005). "Tuck Rule Hard to Grasp". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
- NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2: "When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward, 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. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble."
- ""Crookdnose's Favorite Football Memory: The Snow Bowl"". 2006-01-18. Retrieved 2006-07-19.
- Monkovic, Toni (2011-01-11). ""Mike Pereira No Longer Supports Tuck Rule"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
- Bell, Jarrett (March 14, 2013). "Bell: NFL Can Finally Tuck Away Horrible Rule". USA Today. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
- Hensley, Jamison (March 20, 2013). "2013 NFL Rules Changes". ESPN NFL Nation Blog. Retrieved 2013-03-20.
- Young, Shalise (March 20, 2013). "NFL overwhelmingly kills ‘Tuck Rule’". Boston Globe.