A not-so-fun fact for Minnesota Vikings fans: Averages always average out, and regressions to the mean are sometimes unavoidable.
Last season, the Vikings went an unsustainable 11-0 in close (a score differential of eight points or less) games. This year, the team has stumbled out of the gate with an 0-2 record, and both losses have come in close games.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that close games are typically decided by random chance. When it’s just one possession separating teams, results can be swayed by something as uncontrollable as the slick patch of turf on the field, a referee’s given mood on a potential penalty play, a mere inch of turf on the field — or a polarizing snippet of the NFL rule book.
That last reason played a significant role in Minnesota’s 34-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on “Thursday Night Football.”
Late in the second quarter of the game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Vikings had just given up a touchdown and the lead to the Eagles when Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins and superstar receiver Justin Jefferson quickly marched back down the field, threatening to take the lead right back before halftime.
The go-ahead touchdown seemed imminent when Cousins connected with Jefferson with under 40 seconds left and the star receiver was ruled out at the 1-yard line … until he wasn’t.
As Jefferson made a play for the endzone, he lost control of the football. The ball was initially ruled out at the 1-yard line, but upon further review, it was revealed that the ball went over the goal line.
Should this rule be changed?
Why does that yard-and-a-half difference in where the football exited the playing field matter? Because it was the difference between the Vikings retaining the ball and losing it.
Per NFL rules, if a football is fumbled out of bounds before and without crossing the goal line, the fumbling team retains possession.
If it crosses the goal line, however, it’s considered a touchback, and the fumbling team loses control of the football. The opponent gets the ball at the 20-yard line.
Yes, it feels aggressively arbitrary. And yes, most fans and pundits abhor the rule.
NFL reporter Ari Meirov blasted the rule as “the dumbest” one in the sport in a post on the X social media platform Thursday:
Another NFL reporter, Albert Breer, ripped the rule as well:
Announcer and radio host Grant Paulsen joined the chorus, saying, “You lose possession despite the defense not recovering. AND they get the ball. AND they get 20% of the field marked off. Has never made sense. Insane it’s still a thing.”
Look, it’s clearly not a perfect rule, but it’s also a rule with no clear solution.
Should an offense be rewarded for losing a fumble out of the endzone? Should the offense get the ball back at the 20-yard line?
(And there undoubtedly will be defensive players grousing that offensive players already have enough advantages when it comes to the rules and that this is the most minuscule of concessions.)
Regardless, the rule is unlikely to see any significant change in time for the Vikings’ next tilt, a home game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 24.
Meaning costly endzone fumbles could play a role in yet another example of Minnesota’s regression to the mean this season.
Submit a Correction →
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.