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NFL To Relax On “Brice Butler” Rule That Hurt The Cowboys In The Playoffs

The NFL once again recognizes flaws in the system and will make changes to fix it.

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

For the second time in three years, the Divisional Playoff game against the Green Bay Packers involved a real sketchy call that negatively impacted the Cowboys. In 2014, it was the infamous “Dez Bryant catch” that the referees overturned which unfortunately loomed large in the Cowboys demise. This created a lot of controversy an ultimately led to the NFL changing it’s language to help clarify what constitutes a catch. They attempted to explain the definition of a “runner” with the following:

A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps.

While that explanation offers up a little more to work with, there is still going to be some judgment involved by the referees as to whether the player can ward off defenders. Clearly, after the Dez debacle, the NFL felt compelled to make an adjustment in effort to eliminate additional controversy.

Well, it looks like they are at it again. Remember this play?

On Thursday, the NFL announced they will be relaxing their enforcement of the “Brice Butler” rule, granting more leeway when it comes to this penalty.

The rule is designed to prevent the offense from unfairly deceiving the defense with odd mixes of personnel in the huddle. It did not seem as though this was Butler's intention against the Packers last year, as his attention was turned to the sideline the whole time and the Cowboys didn't form a distinct huddle before he exited the field.

It would be a different story all together if the Cowboys were up to something shady and was trying to fool the Packers, but that was clearly not the case.

Our own VAfan covered it right after the game:

Here’s the rule.

ARTICLE 11. UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT. Using entering substitutes, legally returning players, substitutes on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents, or lingering by players leaving the field when being replaced by a substitute, is unsportsmanlike conduct. See 12-3-1-l. The offense is prevented from sending simulated substitutions onto the field toward its huddle and returning them to the sideline without completing the substitution in an attempt to confuse the defense.

The problem with the call on the field is that nothing Brice Butler did could have been interpreted as intended “to confuse opponents,” or “an attempt to confuse the defense.”

After Butler left, Dallas huddled, got to the line, and ran the play, which was a 22-yard pass down to the Green Bay 15 yard line. Instead, the 15-yard penalty backed up Dallas to it’s 48 yard line, where on 2nd and 20, Dallas threw incomplete, then incomplete again and punted. At the very least this cost the Cowboys three points.

The only “confusion” caused by this play was the referee’s call.

If the NFL is concerned about this type of shadiness, maybe they should look at ways to stop Aaron Rodgers from stealing free plays when he snaps the ball while defenses are making personnel changes? Sure, he’s operating within the confines of the rules, but he exploits it to a new level and that’s not how fans want to see the chains moved (well, unless they are Cheeseheads).

The unsportsmanlike penalty proved costly for Dallas because Dak Prescott had just hit Terrance Williams on a big passing play that put the Cowboys inside the red zone. But instead, after the play was negated and this penalty was enforced, the Cowboys were backed up and had to play against the chains. They would eventually punt the ball away, squandering a great scoring opportunity. And that would have came in handy for Dallas, who ended up losing another heart-breaker to the Packers, 34-31.

The NFL recognized that this rule was something that needed modified. It’s commendable to own up and admit when you are doing something wrong, but could they please stop making all these blunders in critical games where the Cowboys are playing. Give us fans a break, would ya?

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