Monday, November 03, 2008

New rules

It's always fun when a play comes up in a sport in which an obscure rule is used to make a call that seems to make little common sense.

Such was the case Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here was the situation:

When the Bills kicked off to the Jets at one point, Leon Washington of New York let the ball bounce because it looked as if it were headed out of bounds. That would give the Jets something like 20 extra yards, as the ball would be placed at the 40.

But the football took a right turn, and stayed in bounds upon resting. Washington looked up and saw a horde of Bills' tacklers coming his way. So what did he do? He didn't grab the ball and advance a yard or two. He stepped out of bounds.

That seemed odd, until he then reached out and grabbed the free football. The official threw a flag, citing an out-of-bounds kickoff. Ball on the Jets' 40.

And every Bills' fan said, "Huh?"

The rulebook is a little vague on such matters. But, we do know that if a wide receiver is out of bounds when he leans forward and catches a pass, the ball is out of bounds and the reception doesn't count. Or, if a player has his feet out of bounds when he picks up a fumble, the other team gets the ball. That happened to the Bills a few years ago in New England.

But, who knew it would be to the returner's advantage to get out of bounds first before grabbing the ball? Only Washington ... and Devin Hester, who reportedly made the same play last year for the Bears.

Here's the key point: The way the rule reads now, it was to the returner's advantage to go out of bounds before getting the ball, because he gained 20 yards of real estate in the process. That shouldn't happen.

I'll bet the league changes the rule so that if a returner does that, the ball is dead at the spot it was touched.

The league spends hours trying to come up with foolproof rules, and it takes one play to make it go back to the old drawing board.

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