The “Justin Jefferson Rule” Won’t Be Changed

Only Week 6
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If you dislike the NFL’s infamous “fumble-touchback” rule, you’re stuck for at least another season.

The “Justin Jefferson Rule” Won’t Be Changed

One of the sport’s most archaic rules reportedly won’t change as NFL owners showed no enthusiasm for a tweak this week.

Justin Jefferson Rule
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Currently, when a ball carrier fumbles the ball out of the opposing team’s endzone — so that man is about to score a touchdown — the defense gets the ball, and the offense is totally out of luck. And evidently, the powers that be in the NFL don’t have a problem with that.

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweeted Thursday, Day No. 3 of the 2024 NFL Combine, “No changes expected to the rule on a fumble through the end zone being a touchback. Only happened four times in over 40,000 snaps last season and the feeling is it’s a product of poor technique.”

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.

No fan has ever disputed that the fumble aspect of the fumble-touchback is the ball carrier’s fault. It’s just the punishment seems overwhelmingly extreme. The other team is awarded the football at its own 20-yard line.

Regarding changes to the rule, which felt realistic after Justin Jefferson was victimized by it last season, along with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC’s Divisional Round, a couple of alternatives were available. Perhaps the fumbling team — so, the offense — would retain possession at the 1- or 2-yard line, ending the horror of giving the other team the ball altogether. That change would certainly favor the offense and effectively make an endzone fumble a nothingburger.

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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.

The NFL rulebook 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.”

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.

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This is what happened to the Vikings in Week 2:

And the Chiefs in January:

After the fumble-touchback adversely hit the Chiefs, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweeted, “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.”

Unfortunately, he was incorrect, and the rule will live for at least another year.

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).

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