In the divisional-round playoff matchup between the Chiefs and Bills, a critical moment involving Mecole Hardman’s potential touchdown turned into a controversial touchback due to one of the NFL’s less-favored rules.
With Kansas City holding a 27-24 lead, they had a golden opportunity to extend their advantage early in the fourth quarter. After halting a fake punt by Buffalo and a 29-yard run by Isiah Pacheco placing the ball on the Bills’ three-yard line, Andy Reid called on Mecole Hardman to reach the end zone. However, misfortune struck.
Following a short pass from Patrick Mahomes, Hardman almost powered his way into the end zone. Unfortunately, just before breaking the goal line, Bills safety Jordan Poyer dislodged the ball, causing it to bounce out of the back of the end zone.
Initially, the officials ruled that Hardman was down by contact just short of the goal line. Nevertheless, after a review, the call was overturned, deeming that Hardman had fumbled the ball.
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Understanding the NFL Fumble Rule The NFL’s end zone fumble rule often sparks confusion and is a point of contention among many fans.
Nonetheless, the NFL rulebook clearly states that a ball going out of bounds in the opposing team’s end zone results in a turnover, outlined in Section 7, Article 3, Item 4:
- If a ball is fumbled in the field of play, goes forward into the opponent’s end zone, and over the end line or sideline, a touchback is awarded to the defensive team; or
- If a ball is fumbled in a team’s own end zone or in the field of play and goes out of bounds in the end zone, it is a safety, if that team provided the impetus that sent the ball into the end zone (See 11-5-1 for exception for momentum). If the impetus was provided by the opponent, it is a touchback.
While there may be debates about whether Hardman was down before the fumble, the officials correctly applied the ruling on the resulting turnover.
The Larger Debate The broader discussion revolves around the rule itself. Critics argue that the penalty for the fumbling team is too severe, especially when considering that if the ball had gone out of bounds inside the one-yard line, the Chiefs would have retained possession. Supporters of the rule contend that it is the offensive team’s responsibility to maintain good ball security and that they should face consequences for untimely fumbles.
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This debate is expected to gain prominence during the 2024 NFL offseason. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reports that there is “momentum” behind the NFL considering a change ahead of the next season.
This revelation may offer little comfort to Chiefs fans, particularly if they cannot secure a victory against the Bills in their playoff showdown.