The Onside Rule Alternative Proposal Is Back; How It Might Have Affected the Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins were involved in four games in 2020 that featured an onside kick attempt in the final stages

The so-called fourth-and-15 rule is going back before NFL owners this year.

The rule, proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles, would give teams the opportunity after scoring to keep the ball by converting a fourth-and-15 from their 25 instead of trying an onside kick. Teams would be able to use that option twice in a game, but would be forbidden from going for the first down and then going back to kicking off if they committed a penalty.

NFL teams recovered 3 of 67 onside kicks in 2020 and the numbers were 8 of 63 in 2019, according to NFL Research, for a combined success rate of 0.8 percent. By comparison, teams went for the first down on fourth-and-15 31 times and converted four times for a 12.9 conversion rate.

To illustrate what the new rule could look like and what difference it could make, we've gone through the past four seasons of Dolphins games and found 15 instances where there was an onside kick late in the game.

From this vantage point, we absolutely love the idea of the propose rule because, quite frankly, the odds of successfully executing an onside kick at the end of the game are so small it's like the game is over if a team is down two scores in the late stages.

Yes, you could make the argument that maybe it's not fair for a team to be able to come back with a fourth-and-15 conversion allowing it to keep possession, but the rules would be the same for every team.

For a pure entertainment standpoint, it's an absolute no-brainer from here.

Here is the rundown of the Dolphins games of the past four seasons that featured a late (and expected) onside kick:


Bills 31, Dolphins 28

The Dolphins scored with 49 seconds left to pull within three and definitely would have benefited from the proposed rule. Instead, Buffalo recovered the onside kick, took two knees and left Hard Rock Stadium with a Week 2 victory.

Seahawks 31, Dolphins 23

The Dolphins got to within eight points with 1:50 left and technically still had some life even after Seattle recovered the onside kick, but the Seahawks clinched by rushing three consecutive times for a first down.

Dolphins 29, Chargers 21

The Chargers scored right after the two-minute warning but had no timeouts left, so they were left to hope for a miracle with the onside kick. DeVante Parker recovered it to secure the victory.

Chiefs 33, Dolphins 27

The Dolphins' spirited comeback attempt likely would have fallen short even with the proposed rule because there was only 16 seconds left after they kicked a field goal to cut their deficit to six points. As it was, the Chiefs recovered the onside kick and took one knee to end it.


Redskins 17, Dolphins 16

This was the game when Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench to rally the Dolphins, who decided to go for a two-point conversion with 6 seconds left. This was a case where a first down on fourth-and-15 under the new rule likely wouldn't have made a difference because the Dolphins still would have had basically one shot at a Hail Mary.

Bills 31, Dolphins 21

This is one where the new rule could have made a big difference. If you remember, the Dolphins' onside kick after they scored to make it 24-21 was returned for a touchdown by Micah Hyde to make it a 10-point margin. But the Dolphins had 1:45 left, so a conversion on fourth-and-15 would have left them with plenty of time to get into field goal position, or even win the game with a touchdown.

Dolphins 26, Jets 18

The current onside kick rule worked in the Dolphins' favor here because DeVante Parker made the recovery with 11 seconds left to clinch Miami's first victory of the season.

Dolphins 37, Eagles 31

The game that feature the punter-to-kicker touchdown pass ended with an interception in the end zone by Chris Lammons to seal the Dolphins victory. But that came after the Dolphins recovered an Eagles onside kick with 1:51 and then punted after going three-and-out.

Dolphins 38, Bengals 35 (OT)

Forget going for it on fourth-and-15, the Bengals successfully executed an onside and then drove for a game-tying touchdown to send the game to overtime.


Dolphins 27, Titans 20

Dolphins fans no doubt remember the longest game in NFL history, but probably few recall that Miami clinched the victory when Jerome Baker recovered an onside kick with 11 seconds left.

Dolphins 28, Raiders 20

This time it was Albert Wilson recovering an onside kick to clinch a victory, and there were 20 seconds left on this occasion. As with the Tennessee game earlier in the season, the proposed rule likely wouldn't have changed the outcome.


Raiders 27, Dolphins 24

This absolutely was one time where the Dolphins could have saved the Dolphins. They scored to get within three with 1:32 left, but Oakland recovered the onside kick to seal the victory.

Dolphins 27, Patriots 20

The Dolphins were in control most of this Monday night game, but the outcome might have been different under the new rule. As it was, Michael Thomas recovered New England's onside kick with 52 seconds to clinch the victory.

Bills 24, Dolphins 16

The new rule wouldn't have made a difference because the Dolphins recovered the onside (Matt Haack got the loose ball), but the comeback attempt ended on the next play when Jay Cutler was intercepted.

Bills 22, Dolphins 16

Same story as the previous game between the teams: The Dolphins recovered an onside kick late in the game after scoring, but the Bills clinched the victory (and ultimately earned a playoff spot) with an interception.