This column is traditionally a look ahead to a good story angle in a Sunday or Monday game, but this week I'm throwing a changeup. I want to look at a dumb rule that needs to be changed. You know it, I know it, the league knows it ... and there's little question the league will change it for the 2013 season.
The rule in question -- the illegality of a coach throwing the challenge flag and negating a replay review if he does -- cost the Lions a Texans touchdown and quite possibly a victory against Houston, though I am not excusing the brainlock of Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. He has to know the rules, and he got too upset at a vital time of game and blew a call that will haunt this Detroit season. But as an NFL source told me last night, the penalty is "too onerous'' and I will be shocked -- as will my well-informed source -- if half of the rule isn't overturned next year. (UPDATE:The league has announced that it will examine changing the rule.) The 15-yard penalty will likely stay on the books, but the automatic review won't get squashed because some ill-informed coach makes the mistake of throwing the challenge flag after a turnover or touchdown.
Here's the situation that lit the fire Thursday, as you saw in Detroit's overtime loss to the Texans at Ford Field: Houston running back Justin Forsett fell early in an 81-yard touchdown run, his knee and elbow both clearly touching the turf. And for some reason, the officials didn't see it. It's hard to tell from the replay who blew it, but I'm told it was either head linesman Jerry Bergman or line judge Mike Spanier who missed a call you can't miss in a Pop Warner game. Maybe one or both was shielded by a player or players. But two officials close to the scene, and five others strategically placed around the field? Utterly preposterous to miss a ball-carrier with two requisite body parts on the ground (only one is needed) to cause a tackle. But now it was up to the automatic review that occurs after every scoring play.
Except the automatic review doesn't occur in the event of a delay like a thrown challenge flag, according to Official NFL Playing Rule 15, Section 9, of the 2012 book of rules. "If there is a foul that delays the next snap,'' the rule says, "the team committing that foul will no longer be able to challenge the previous ruling.'' The throwing of the challenge flag counts as such a delay. And the throwing that challenge flag on either a scoring play or a turnover, both of which are automatically reviewed, results in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Why these rules? Because in past years, some coaches have thrown a challenge flag to get the attention of officials or to slow the game down, knowing there wasn't a play to overturn. Then the officials go over to the coach, often get an earful, and there's no review of the play. Now there's a vehicle to punish coaches who throw a challenge flag in error.
Here's my big problem with the system: Replay is on the books to correct obviously wrong calls. The Forsett touchdown run should have been reversed, clearly. The reason it wasn't is because of a ticky-tack rule that might have sounded good when it was written, but clearly doesn't work in principal. The NFL has to be embarrassed that some silly procedural rule made a mockery of a national TV game, which, of course, it did. The sentence doesn't fit the crime. You're throwing a jaywalker in jail for 18 months instead of giving him a $50 ticket.
The solution is to review all turnovers and scoring plays, regardless if the coach -- Mike Smith last week, Schwartz this week -- throws the challenge flag or not. You want to penalize the offending team for not knowing the rules? Fine. Fifteen yards seems excessive. Five is fair, for delay of game. Throwing the red flag is much more a delay of game than unsportsmanlike anyway.
Many of you have tweeted me since I reported on NBC late last night that the league will scrub the lack of review from the books in 2013, asking why not do something now. The NFL technically could do something about it now, but why? The next coach dumb enough to throw a challenge flag after a turnover or scoring play deserves more than a 15-yard penalty and no review. He deserves a pink slip.
BURKE: BEST & WORST OF THANKSGIVING GAMES
Three Thanksgiving games, three thoughts on three road winners:
• Houston played 10 quarters in five days (okay, technically they played 73 minutes Sunday in the overtime win against Jacksonville, and 73 minutes Thursday in the OT win at Detroit, which means they played the equivalent of nine quarters and 11 minutes), and survived both games, taking control of the AFC home-field race in the process. Connor Barwin, you win the laurel wreath for the NFL Marathon. Barwin played all 89 defense snaps against the Jags, and all 66 against Detroit ... and added 29 total special teams snaps in the two games. "We're not thrilled about the amount of yards the defense is giving up,'' Barwin told me after the game in Detroit, "but what we've just accomplished is pretty special. I feel okay. Not sure how I'll feel tomorrow."
• Washington has devised a great scheme for Robert Griffin III behind a battling but mediocre offensive line. He had his second straight four-touchdown passing game at Dallas, and his 79 percent passing over the past two games surprises everyone but Griffin himself. One thing I noticed Thursday: His receivers are really helping him. The Pierre Garcon touchdown was a 9.8 on a scale of 10 in degree of difficulty, Garcon reaching behind him to pluck a fastball out of the air. How can you not like what you're seeing out of the Redskins, who could be playing the Giants on Monday night next week for a share of the NFC East lead if Green Bay beats New York at the Meadowlands Sunday?
• New England. The thing I'd be most encouraged about in this four-game steamrolling of the NFL (four wins by an average of 27.3 points, the latest the total undressing of the Jets) is that Tom Brady hasn't had to do it by himself. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, between them, have averaged 114.8 rushing yards per game, which is something the Patriots are going to need in January to make sure Terrell Suggs or J.J. Watt or Von Miller doesn't zero in on Brady exclusively.
Jonathan Scott, right tackle, Chicago (No. 79). This just in: The Bears' offensive line is no good. This was another tumultuous week for it. Right tackle Gabe Carimi was demoted for career backup Scott in advance of Sunday's important NFC North game with Minnesota. Guard Chilo Rachal was demoted for journeyman guard Chris Spencer, Rachal left the team in a huff, returned, and was released. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb prepared to faced Jared Allen, who, in his last game against Webb, had 3.5 sacks. Look, the house is on fire in Chicago, and it's a five-alarmer, and all that's at stake is the season and the Bears' place atop the NFC North. That's all.
1. The return of the once prodigal son. Carson Palmer returns to Cincinnati with the Raiders, and I'm guessing he'll be booed lustily. But why? I mean, why? Palmer held out, said he wouldn't play for the Bengals ever again, and his intransigence made the Bengals draft a better player for the long-term, Andy Dalton, and get first- and second-round picks for Palmer from Oakland in trade. If I were a Cincinnatian Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, I'd give Palmer a standing O.
2. Charlie Batch. The Browns, judging by their beatdown of Tony Romo for much of the day Sunday in Dallas, could make life miserable for Batch and the Steelers. Pittsburgh absolutely doesn't have an easy one in Cleveland, and the Steelers have to know the Bengals are hot, and could be tied with them entering December depending on Sunday's games.
3. Plaxico. The Steelers have a package of red zone plays for him, which Burress can run in his sleep. How great would it be to see him score a couple of touchdowns and show the rest of the wideout-hungry league what a mistake they made by passing on a guy they could have had for the vet minimum the last 11 weeks?
4. The Giants returning to form, or not. Eli Manning's on a 12-quarter touchdown-pass-less streak. I predict he will someday throw another touchdown pass, perhaps even Sunday against the Charles Woodson- and Sam Shields-less Packers secondary.
5. Colin Kaepernick the heir. Tough place to make a second career start -- the Superdome, with a nutty crowd making him go silent snap count much of the time on offense. But Jim Harbaugh has a quarterback itch he needs to scratch. And Alex Smith gets the shaft. That's life in Jim Harbaugh's NFL.
6. The Rex Fallout. Well, Rex Ryan says he told offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff not to play Tim Tebow Thursday night because Tebow had two broken ribs. And Ryan says Tebow was 100 percent available to play. I see. Yes, I see Rexlogic 101.
7. The Suh Fallout. Hard to tell if he kicked Matt Schaub in the groin with his cleated shoe on purpose or not. Not hard to tell he's lost all benefit of the doubt with this one. The league's going to have a tough call. I don't see how they don't somehow discipline Suh for the groin stomp.
8. Jobwatch. Time to win or risk unemployment come January for the following coaches: Norv Turner (versus Baltimore at home), Ron Rivera (at Philly), Andy Reid (versus Ron Rivera), Ken Whisenhunt (at home against the Rams), Pat Shurmur (versus Pittsburgh at home), Chan Gailey (at Indy), Mike Munchak (home against the Jags).
9. WWSD? Sean, as in Sean Payton. The clock's ticking for the Saints to get him signed. Don't want to let Jerry Jones in the derby, Mickey Loomis.
10. Drew Brees the humanitarian versus Vic Fangio and the destroyers. Brees is on fire, again, in the Saints' four-game win streak. Fangio's Niners defense is the stingiest in football, allowing 13.4 points per game. Game of the weekend at the 'Dome.
BURKE: STORYLINES TO WATCH IN WEEK 12