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Yesterday, at the end of the Packers-Bills game (2014 Week 15), Rodgers fumbled into his own endzone. Eddie Lacy recovered it, but was unable to fight his way out, resulting in a game-winning safety.

The TV coverage pointed out an interesting wrinkle: even if he had made it out, it still would have been considered a safety, due to this section of the NFL's fumble rule:

If any player fumbles after the two-minute warning in a half, only the fumbling player is permitted to recover and/or advance the ball. If recovered by any other offensive player, the ball is dead at the spot of the fumble unless it is recovered behind the spot of the fumble. In that case, the ball is dead at the spot of recovery. Any defensive player may recover and/or advance any fumble at any time.

It seems to be little-known enough that Lacy himself didn't know it, since his recovery of the ball was what ended the play and sealed the game. Only Rodgers could have run it out of the endzone to avoid the loss. Of course, in the actual game, the outcome was inevitable, because Rodgers had no idea where the ball was.

My guess is that this rule exists to discourage "intentional fumbling" in desperate situations. Is that right? Does anyone know when it was added, and whether the league ever had an "intentional fumbling" problem?

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To answer your question(s), the rule is to discourage intentional fumbling. It was added following the 1978 season in which the famous "Holy Roller" play occurred:

The rule was put in the rule book after the Raiders beat the Chargers on an intentional forward fumble in 1978. Once the season was over, the rule as you have quoted was put into effect.


Losing 20 to 14 with a few seconds remaining in the game, the Raiders QB Ken Stabler fumbled the ball forward from the 24 yard line. From there two of his teammates batted the ball towards and into the end zone. The Raider's Dave Casper fell on the ball in the end zone and the following extra point won the game, 21-20.

After the game, Stabler admitted to fumbling on purpose.


Wiki on Holy Roller


Video of the play

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    Ha! I figured something like that must be the reason. I found video of the play at nfl.com and added it to the answer as well. – hoverbikes Dec 15 '14 at 18:01
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    I'd have to say that almost looks like a shovel pass so it should have been ruled an incompletion... – Chrismas007 Dec 15 '14 at 23:38
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    @Chrismas007: or intentional grounding. But remember those were the days when dropping the ball was a fumble. There was no forensic scrutiny to rule that if the QB's hand moved an inch forwards in control of the ball before a defender strips it, then it's a forward pass. So Stabler's job of fakery was that much easier under those rules. – Steve Jessop Dec 16 '14 at 10:15
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    What if instead of trying to advance the ball, Lacy had thrown it away for an incomplete pass? – Daniel Nov 23 '15 at 16:38
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    @Daniel the ball is technically dead once he picks it up, so throwing it away wouldn't matter as the play is over. – diggers3 Nov 23 '15 at 19:06

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