Bending rules or intentionally breaking them is nothing new in sports. It’s a huge part of the end-of-game strategy in the NBA, but the NFL hasn’t had much of it, thanks to the option to decline penalties. However, there’s a recent trend to deliberately draw holding penalties and the NFL likely won’t stand for it much longer.
With 11 seconds remaining and a seven-point lead, the Baltimore Ravens stirred up an evil plan Sunday that would make Mr. Burns jealous.
Instead of letting Sam Koch punt the ball to the Bengals and allow the possibility of last-second heroics, the Ravens held every Cincinnati player so Koch could stand with the ball for the remainder of the clock and step out of bounds for a safety.
The play drew a whole bunch of holding penalties, but it didn’t matter. The game can’t end on a defensive penalty, but it can end on an offensive one, so that was that.
There’s really just one reason to intentionally draw holding penalties: It wastes time.
If there’s little to no realistic ramifications for giving up yardage, but there’s big incentive to run out the clock, it can make sense to force a play to burn time.
The San Francisco 49ers pulled out the same strategy earlier in the year, except they did it on defense.
With eight seconds before halftime, the New Orleans Saints planned to take one more shot at the end zone or settle for a 30-yard field goal. By holding every receiver, the 49ers eliminated the possibility of a touchdown and forced the Saints to settle for a 25-yard field goal.
The Ravens pulled out a similar strategy in Super Bowl XLVII with Koch standing in the back of the end zone before taking an intentional safety. No holding was called, but it wasn’t for lack of effort by the Baltimore line that grabbed most of the 49ers rushers before Koch was eventually forced out after wasting all but four seconds.
So how does the NFL fix this? It already showed how. According to Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated, the NFL instructed officials to throw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a “palpably unfair act” if a team does it more than once.
Considering it only took one for the Ravens to seal the game against the Bengals, giving teams a pass on their first violation may be too much.