During his team’s 33-0 primetime win over the New York Jets last October, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was filmed on the sidelines obviously amused by what was unfolding on the field: with the Patriots in full control of the game in the fourth quarter and facing a 4th-and-2, Belichick sent his punt team onto the field. However, more than a minute ran off the game clock before the football was actually kicked away by Jake Bailey.
What had happened? New England intentionally took a delay of game penalty to give Bailey a little bit more breathing room, but the Jets declined it. Belichick’s team then took another penalty on purpose — veteran special teamer Brandon Bolden was flagged for a false start — which again was declined. In the middle of the back-and-forth and before the Patriots eventually did punt the football, the clock continued to keep running.
“It was just the way the rules are set up,” Belichick said about the two consecutive declined penalties and the loophole in the rulebook after the game when asked whether or not the sequence could be categorized as an act of gamesmanship. “We were able to run quite a bit of time off the clock without really having to do anything. That’s probably a loophole that will be closed and probably should be closed but right now it’s open.”
As Belichick noted, the loophole’s life expectancy was a short one to begin with, and it now seems as if the NFL’s competition committee agrees. The committee, after all, recently announced two rule change proposals for this year’s offseason and one of them aims at altering the game clock rules after the Patriots (and the Tennessee Titans against the Patriots later during the year) took advantage of it last season:
By the Competition Committee, to amend Rule 4, Section 3, Article 2, to prevent teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.
Altering the rule does make sense from the perspective of competitive fairness, similar to a 2017 change that now bars teams from committing multiple intentional fouls on the same play in order to run out the clock at the end of each half. While Belichick and the Patriots might have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct against the Jets had they attempted another intentional infraction after the second straight penalty, the time off the clock would still have been lost.
Now, as Belichick predicted, the rule will likely be changed. In order for the proposal to pass, a three-fourths majority among the team’s 32 owners will need to be reached during upcoming meetings: if 24 of them vote in favor of the proposal and other rule changes, it will go into effect as early as the upcoming season.
The competition committee also proposed another rule change, aimed at improving protection for players deemed defenseless:
By the Competition Committee, to amend Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9, to expand defenseless player protection to a kickoff or punt returner who is in possession of the ball but who has not had time to avoid or ward off the impending contact of an opponent.
Seven other potential rule book amendments, meanwhile, where proposed by the clubs itself back in March — including a potential alternative to the onside kick:
By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7, to modify the blindside block rule to prevent unnecessary fouls.
By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to make permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful Try attempt.
By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 6, Section 1, Article 1, to provide an alternative to the onside kick that would allow a team who is trailing in the game an opportunity to maintain possession of the ball after scoring (4th and 15 from the kicking team’s 25-yard line).
By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 16, Section 1, to restore preseason and regular season overtime to 15 minutes and implement rules to minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss.
By Miami; to amend Rule 4, Section 3, Article 2, to provide the option to the defense for the game clock to start on the referee’s signal if the defense declines an offensive penalty that occurs late in either half.
By Baltimore and Los Angeles Chargers; to amend Rule 19, Section 2, to add a “booth umpire” as an eighth game official to the officiating crew.
By Baltimore and Los Angeles Chargers; to amend Rule 19, Section 2, to add a Senior Technology Advisor to the Referee to assist the officiating crew.