Closing the 'Jim Schwartz rule' loophole

I'm a little late on this, but while I have a moment to breathe on Day 4 1/2 of NFL free agency, let's try to understand how the NFL is proposing to change the rule that cost the Detroit Lions a touchdown in their Thanksgiving Day loss last season to the Houston Texans.

As you remember, referee Walt Coleman granted Texans running back Justin Forsett an 81-yard touchdown even when replays revealed he was down by contact seven yards past the line of scrimmage. Lions coach Jim Schwartz challenged the play, breaking the NFL rule that prohibits a coach's challenge on plays such as touchdowns that are automatically reviewed. Because Schwartz's act was considered a delay of game, the rule prevented Coleman from reviewing the play. The touchdown stood.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay -- also the chairman of the NFL's competition committee -- referred to the result as an "anomaly" that was never contemplated in the original rule. The committee will propose a rule change at next week's NFL owners meeting that would work the following way if a coach challenges an automatically reviewable play:

  • The team would be charged a timeout.

  • If the team has no timeouts remaining, it would receive a 15-yard penalty.

  • The play would still be reviewed regardless. If the team wins the review, it would not get its timeout back.

In essence, this rule change would ensure that the desired result -- a correct call -- is not superseded by the punishment for an illegal challenge. The details could be tweaked during further discussion next week, but the loophole will assuredly be closed. It's a year too late for the Lions, but such is life.