The “Justin Jefferson Rule” Will Now Become “The Chiefs Rule”

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Change might not have happened before, but after the Kansas City Chiefs were affected, it’s a whole new ball of wax.

The NFL utilizes the touchback fumble rule, where the opposing team is awarded the ball if a ball carrier fumbles the rock out of the endzone. For years, NFL fans have insisted the rule is archaic — and flat-out dumb — but deaf ears accompanied the complaints.

The “Justin Jefferson Rule” Will Now Become “The Chiefs Rule”

However, on the NFL’s second-grandest stage — Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills — Patrick Mahomes’ team was victimized, placing a possible rule change front and center.

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman Jr. (12) fumbles the ball through the end zone for a turnover that stopped a scoring chance. © Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK.

This was the play, and the Bills took possession:

Of course, the Chiefs later prevailed in spite of the touchback fumble, but in the heat of the moment, the transaction could’ve been deadly. The same situation happened to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2 and wideout Justin Jefferson, albeit on a smaller and less important scale.

This was the Vikings play, akin to the Hardman fumble on Sunday night:

The Eagles took possession of the ball at their own 20-yard line, stifling any Vikings’ impetus in that moment and the rest of the game. Philadelphia defeated Minnesota 34-28.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweeted Sunday night, “Good chance the touchback rule for fumbling through the end zone will be changed this offseason. Momentum behind NFL correcting it. Penalty considered by many to be too harsh.”

Only Week 6
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Two years ago when the Chiefs and Bills hooked up for playoff battle, NFL owners and fans bemoaned overtime rules because Josh Allen and Co. didn’t get the chance to match a Chiefs touchdown in a thriller game. Soon after, the NFL changed the rule, and now NFL teams can match the first team’s touchdown in overtime, if applicable, in the postseason. Bills-Chiefs has rapidly morphed in the NFL’s game of the year, so silly rules and blunders are amplified.

In December, The 33rd Team’s Ari Meirov tweeted, “Potentially significant: NFL executive Troy Vincent said today that the league will look into the play where the offensive player’s fumble through the end zone equals a touchback. That will be discussed in the offseason.” Hardman’s touchback fumble only accelerated the soon-to-be evaluation.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

It is unclear how the rule would change, but a few theories exist. Perhaps the fumbling team — so, the offense — would retain possession at the 1- or 2-yard line, ending the monstrosity of giving the other team the ball altogether. That change would certainly favor the offense and effectively make an endzone fumble a nothingburger.

A fairer alternative might be awarding the fumbling team possession of the ball — but back at the 20-yard line. This could be perceived then as a 19- or 20-yard penalty for dropping the ball. The league would have to decide if the offense received a fresh set of downs or if, for example, it became 2nd and 21 from the 20-yard line.

There are several details to ponder, but at least the league’s brass is trending in the right direction. For the Vikings, any team, or player, it’s absurd to strip possession of the ball totally. The rule is an antique.

The NFL rulebook currently states, “If a ball is fumbled in the field of play, and goes forward into the opponent’s end zone and over the end line or sideline, a touchback is awarded to the defensive team.”

Justin Jefferson Rule
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

An era might’ve existed when that made sense, but it is long gone. It’s also worth noting that a proposed rule change would affect all teams and players equitably. It isn’t a pro-Vikings, pro-Chiefs, or pro-anything ordeal.

There is no guarantee the rule will be changed, but at the very least, a discussion is on the docket for NFL owners, especially after Bills-Chiefs.


Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.

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