Ravens Exploit Little-Known Loophole in NFL Rule Book to Seal Victory Over the Bengals

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(Photo: Getty Images)

After building a 13-point halftime lead, the Baltimore Ravens held on to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 19-14 on Sunday.

Literally.

For the second time in three weeks, an NFL coach took advantage of a blind spot in the league's rule book to help deliver his team a victory. Though the Ravens' triumph was not nearly as in doubt as the Denver Broncos' win, which came when they blocked a field goal and returned it for two points to break a tie.

With Baltimore up seven on fourth-and-8 with 11 seconds remaining, instead of giving the Bengals the ball back, they held on to it—and every Cincinnati defender that even thought about pursuing punter Sam Koch.

As a downpour of yellow flags covered the field, Koch danced around until no time remained, then went out of bounds for a safety.

The NFL's rule book indicates that a game cannot end on a defensive penalty, discouraging players from doing anything necessary to prevent potential game-winning or game-tying scores. But because in the same dire situation an offense could benefit from committing a penalty—for instance, if it's clear you're not going to reach the end zone and time has expired, you'd rather be 10 yards back with another shot at the end zone than see the game end—there's no rule against a game ending on an offensive penalty.

So while the Ravens' strategy here isn't technically not against the rules, I very much doubt that Roger Goodell loves the idea of teams benefiting from illegally holding their opponents. Expect to see this loophole closed by 2017.