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Explaining the need for the proposed NFL rule change in enforcing penalties on PATs

There was a simple rule change proposed by the Bears which fixes a problem most fans didn’t even know about.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

On Thursday, the NFL released proposed rule changes which will be considered for the 2021 season. These rules will be voted upon during upcoming owners meetings and will need to be approved by 24 of the 32 NFL owners in order for them to be adopted.

Some of the rules made sense such as eliminating overtime in preseason games. Another proposal wants to expand which positions are allowed to be issued single-digit jersey numbers. Yet another proposal was to implement an alternative to an onside kick by giving the team a 4th & 15 from their own 25-yard line.

One of the lesser discussed rules were submitted by the Chicago Bears. An explanation to their proposal is as follows according to the NFL football operations website:

By Chicago; to amend Rule 11, Section 3, Article 3, to ensure the enforcement of all accepted penalties committed by either team during successive Try attempts.

This rule seems pretty straightforward to most to look at it, and probably would wonder why they would even need to be a rule change. But I discovered during the 2019 season exactly why this rule would be necessary and, in fact, makes a lot of sense.

When teams are attempting a point after try (PAT), whether a two point conversion from the 2-yard line or a one point kick snapped from the 15-yard line, there is an interesting rule when it comes to enforcing penalties. Surprisingly, when a penalty is accepted on a PAT, but then the other team commits a penalty which is enforced, the first penalty miraculously goes away.

Here’s an example:

A team who just scored a touchdown lines up for an extra point. On the play, a defender runs into the holder and gets a 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. While the kicking team could elect to enforce this penalty on the kickoff and keep their one point, the other option is to accept the penalty from the two-point conversion spot and attempt a try from the 1-yard line. This actually occurs fairly often with teams hoping they can get the 1 yard needed for an additional point.

On the two-point conversion, an offensive player gets called for a holding penalty on a successful try. If the try was not successful, the defense would simply decline the penalty and the play would be over with no points awarded. But in order to keep points off the board, the defense accepts the 10-yard penalty.

One would think this penalty would be enforced either from the 1-yard line for a two point try (which would put the line of scrimmage at the 11-yard line), or from the 7 1/2-yard line for a one-point kick which would put the ball at the 17 1/2-yard line. But this is not the case. Under the current rule, the first penalty is like it never happened and this new penalty is enforced from either the 2-yard line or the 15-yard line.

As far as I know, there’s no other time in an NFL game when an accepted penalty simply disappears because there’s a penalty on the next play. Under the new proposal, the first penalty simply would not go away and the enforcement of the second penalty would be from the line of scrimmage of either of the options that the offense had prior to the second penalty.

I saw this situation occur live in Week 2 of the 2019 season when the Denver Broncos were facing the Chicago Bears. With 31 seconds left in the game, Joe Flacco connected with a Emmanuel Sanders for a 7-yard touchdown to bring the score to 13 to 12. On the PAT, Denver was called for a delay of game. Moving the ball back to the 20 yard line, Brandon McManus missed the extra point but a penalty was called against the defense for offsides. Rather than putting the ball back at either the 15-yard line or the 2-yard line, Denver was able to get the ball at the 1-yard line and converted in order to take a one-point lead. Although Chicago kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired, being put in this situation is probably the reasoning behind their proposal.

This rule change is likely not a big deal for most fans. In fact, the majority of NFL fans have no idea it would even be needed. Honestly, I have no idea why the original rule was decided on in the first place no simply disregard a penalty. Hopefully the NFL will accept this change and get the rule right.