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 --
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.
Three Thanksgiving games, three thoughts on three road winners: