Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah returned an interception for a touchdown, slid to his knees in the end zone to pray and was controversially flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct during Monday night's 41-14 rout of the Patriots.
NFL spokesperson Michael Signora wrote in a statement Tuesday morning that Abdullah should not have been penalized and will not be fined. Signora said despite the rule prohibiting excessive celebrations "the officiating mechanic in this situation is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of a religious expression."
The penalty had drawn criticism from some observers, because similar celebrations have been allowed in the past. The most famous case involved former Broncos and Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, who would drop to one knee after a touchdown, a move that came to be known as "Tebowing."
Abdullah, a devout Muslim, said he thought the 15-yard penalty was due to his action immediately before his prayer.
"For me, I just got a little too excited," Abdullah told the Kansas City Star after the game. "I think it was for the slide."
Abdullah said Chiefs coach Andy Reid told him "You can't slide" when the safety got back to the Kansas City sideline.
That doesn't mean Reid condoned the penalty.
"When you go to Mecca, you should be able to slide where you want," Reid said, according to the Star. "We've got two priests in here. They'd probably vouch for me."
Abdullah was flagged for violating Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) of the NFL rule book, which states: "There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others ... Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground. A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official."
The touchdown was the first of Abdullah's season and the second of his six-year career.