NEW YORK The NFL decided last April to allow coaches to make a choice if they win the coin toss at the start of the game take the ball or defer to the second half, just as they do in college.
It takes effect when the Redskins visit the Giants Thursday night in the season opener, one of several new rules for the 2008 NFL season.
In the exhibition season, most teams have done it the old way they have chosen to take the ball. But that may have been because coaches wanted to look at their offenses quickly so it could change when the games count and they decide they'd like to start the second half with offenses on the field.
"I think there are some advantages to deferring but we have played in an awful lot of games where, when we win the toss, we take the ball and we have done well in a lot of those games as well," New England coach Bill Belichick said when asked why he took the ball at the start of Thursday's game.
"I don't know if there is anything to getting the ball and having first crack at it or giving it up and having that first possession in the second half."
The coin toss deferral is one of several new rules, most of them geared to defense after a decade of rules that generally helped the offense.
Giving designated defensive players a radio in his helmet, allowing coaches to relay defensive signals just as offensive signals are relayed from offensive coaches to the quarterback.
Eliminating the 5-yard penalties for incidental face masks. Only the 15-yard penalty for grabbing and twisting the mask will be enforced. In addition, officials will be on the lookout for offensive players who latch on to the face masks of defenders in an effort to take them out of plays.
Eliminating the force out rule. In the past, officials could rule a receiver whose feet had not touched in bounds had made a catch because a defensive player had forced him out. Under the new rule, a receiver must land with both feet in bounds regardless of whether or not he is hit while in the air.
"We feel that with so many levels of judgment that go into the force-out call, it creates a more consistent play when either you get your feet down for a complete pass or you do not," says Atlanta president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, which proposed the change.
Extending instant replay to cover field goal and extra points and illegal forward handoffs. One reason the rule was added was a play at the end of a game in Baltimore in which Phil Dawson's 51-yard game-tying field goal attempt for Cleveland bounced off an upright, then off the support behind the crossbar. Officials first ruled it no good because they thought it had hit the crossbar, then conferred and made the correct call.
The Browns went on to win in overtime.
Muffed snaps will now be in play if they are not touched, allowing the defensive team to recover. In the past, they were ruled a false start.