The Cleveland Browns were so close to pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the season. With Patrick Mahomes out late in the fourth, the Browns were in a position to take the lead against the Chiefs. Unfortunately, the Browns couldn’t pull out the victory, falling to the defending champs 22-17. There was one play in that game the NFL will be looking at going into the offseason.
The Browns had a chance to cut the Chiefs’ lead before halftime. They were in scoring position and even got as close as the one-yard line. However, they failed to earn points and turned the ball over. The turnover was because of an NFL rule that needs to change because of how stupid it is.
The Browns have a costly turnover
The Chiefs dominated the early parts of the game, and the Browns were struggling to keep up. It was 16-3 with under two minutes left in the half, and Cleveland had a chance to get some much-needed points before halftime. Baker Mayfield led the Browns on a drive, getting them to Kansas City’s 26-yard line.
On a first-and-10, Mayfield threw the ball to Rashard Higgins. Higgins caught the ball inside the Chiefs’ 10 and stumbled toward the endzone. He lunged for the pylon but was hit by Daniel Sorenson. The hit by Sorenson popped the ball loose, and it rolled into the endzone. The referees ruled the play a fumble into the endzone, which results in a touchback, and Kansas City takes over the football.
That turnover was a costly one by Higgins and the Browns. They lost a minimum of three points on that drive, which could’ve changed the complexion of the game going into the half. The Chiefs capitalized on the turnover with a field goal. What could’ve been a 16-6 ball game at the half became a 19-3 halftime score. Who knows how the game would’ve been different if Cleveland gets three points, even a touchdown on that drive.
Sorenson’s hit on Higgins also drew some questions. It looks like he led with his helmet and made contact with Higgins’ head. It had the looks of a penalty even though one wasn’t called. That missed call would’ve given the Browns the ball at the one. However, Higgins’ turnover is based on an NFL rule that has many calling for the rule to change.
The NFL rule on fumbles in the endzone
That wasn’t the first time a team has benefited from their opponent fumbling the ball into the endzone. There have been many instances where a player reaches for the endzone but fumbles the ball, and it goes out of bounds in the endzone. Every time it happens, it makes people upset and wonder why that is.
Look no further than section seven, article three, item four in the NFL Rulebook. “If a ball is fumbled in the field of play, and goes forward into the opponent’s end zone and over the end line or sideline, a touchback is awarded to the defensive team,” per the NFL Rulebook.
What is more interesting about the rule is that it is such a specific rule in the NFL Rulebook. Why did they make the defensive team the beneficiary of a fumble that goes into the endzone? Especially if there is no clear recovery? Why is this kind of fumble treated differently than any other fumble? Those are some of the questions many NFL fans had when they saw the play.
Given how impactful Higgins’ play was, many are calling for the NFL to look at the hideous rule and change it. Some are on the side of not fumbling the ball, like Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski.
The NFL needs to look at this stupid rule
Looking at and changing this fumble in the endzone rule should be the first thing on the NFL’s agenda this offseason. This rule is awful and credits the defense for simply forcing a fumble. When there is a fumble anywhere else on the field, there needs to be an apparent recovery, or if it goes out of bounds, the team who had possession prior keeps it.
Why hasn’t the NFL looked at this rule or changed it before? According to Brad Gagnon, it is because this scenario doesn’t happen much in the NFL. “There were eight instances this year, three the year before and three the year before that. We did not believe it merited a proposal,” said NFL competition committee chairman Rich McKay to Gagnon.
That didn’t stop Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski from reminding others of his fundamental rule near the pylon, “Our rule there is not to reach the ball out when it is first and goal, and he [Higgins] knows that,” said Stefanski per Pro Football Talk.
The Browns loss was a tough one, but losing partially in part to an old NFL rule is even worse. Maybe having this idiotic rule enforced during a high stakes playoff game is enough for the NFL to review this rule. It is overdue and needs to be changed before some other team is victimized by this rule.