Rules changes adopted

A rule change to protect quarterbacks after a turnover is due in part to the hit Hugh Douglas put on Jim Miller, which separated the quarterback's throwing shoulder, in the Bears playoff loss to Philadelphia. The rule change adopted at the annual NFL owners meetings could be considered the "Jim Miller" rule.

* A quarterback who has become a defender after a turnover can't be hit helmet to helmet, even if he has made a move to tackle the ball carrier. The quarterback can be blocked in other legal ways, however.

* On a kickoff, the clock will start only when the ball is legally touched on the field of play at all times. In the past, that was true only in the final two minutes of each half and in overtime.

* On a sack in the last two minutes of either half, the clock no longer will stop until the ball is respotted. The competition committee believed that rewarded the offense for a bad play, and the owners agreed.

* Record in common games was moved up as a tiebreaker for the playoffs. With realignment, common games become more critical, with as many as 14 of them possible for teams tied in the standings.

* For a division championship, common games became the third tiebreaker behind head-to-head record and best winning percentage in division games. That also holds for a two-team tie for a wild-card spot. In a tie among three or more teams for the wild card, however, record in common games is the fourth tiebreaker.

* Home teams no longer can play artificial noise or music when the visiting team has the ball.

* A player no longer can be ruled out of bounds when he touches a pylon unless he already touched the boundary line.

* Continuing-action fouls now will be ruled as dead-ball fouls. If a team gains 10 yards on first down, but an offensive player then commits a personal or unsportsmanlike foul after the down ends, the play will count. Then the 15-yard penalty will be marked off from the spot where the play ended.

* All chop blocks on kicking plays now are illegal and penalized 15 yards.


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