PHOENIX, March 20 (UPI) -- NFL owners meeting in Phoenix voted Wednesday to end the so-called tuck rule and toughened its rule on helmet hits.
The owners voted 29-1-2 to end the tuck rule, in place since 1999. Pittsburgh voted against the change, while Washington and New England abstained.
Under the tuck rule, if a quarterback's throwing arm was moving forward when he lost the ball, it was ruled an incomplete pass rather than a fumble if the ball hit the ground, even if he was trying to bring it toward his body.
The rule played a key role in the 2001 AFC divisional playoffs when New England's Tom Brady lost the ball on a late fourth-quarter play against Oakland. Rather than losing the ball on a turnover, the Patriots rallied to win in overtime.
NFL owners also outlawed players from leading with the top, or crown, of their helmets outside of the tackle box. The rule is expected to especially affect running backs who commonly use the helmet as protection from oncoming and often unavoidable contact.
The measure is part of the NFL's health and safety initiative being pushed by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The owners also voted to change a rule regarding the illegal throwing of a challenge flag. Under the revised rule, if a play is challenged illegally, the team will forfeit a timeout. If a team is out of timeouts, it will be penalized 15 yards, but the play will still be reviewed.
Last season, Detroit Coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag on a touchdown that should have been nullified. All scoring plays are reviewed, but by throwing the flag the referee was prohibited from looking at the video evidence.