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End zone interception triggers rarely-used rule


Late in the first quarter of Monday night’s game between Washington and Dallas, an unusual play happened in the Cowboys end zone.

Safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted a pass intended for Washington receiver Andre Roberts. Wilcox, untouched after he secured possession of the ball, sprung up at the back of the end zone. Promptly, receiver Pierre Garςon drilled Wilcox, forcing a fumble out of the back of the end zone.

The ruling on the field was a touchback. Replay review confirmed it.

Per a league source, the specific ruling was that Wilcox had intercepted the ball and fumbled. But because Washington provided, as the rule book dubs it, the “impetus” that put the ball in the end zone, possession by the Cowboys in their own end zone and a fumble by the Cowboys out of the end zone remained a touchback, with the Cowboys getting the ball on their own 20.

As the source explained it, the ruling would have applied even if Wilcox had run around inside the end zone, trying to get out but losing possession before exiting. If the ball had gone out of bounds in the end zone, the outcome would have been the same as if Wilcox had simply taken a knee.

It’s a strange rule. One team acquires possession of the ball in its own end zone, loses possession of the ball while in their own end zone, but suffers no consequence when the fumbled ball goes out of the end zone.

But that’s the rule, and that was the outcome of a play that kept Washington from extending its lead (at the time) from 3-0 to 5-0.