The Patriots didn’t deserve to win against the Jets on Sunday, but they didn’t deserve to lose the way they lost, either.
After struggling through an ugly game on both sides of the ball in the Meadowlands, with Tom Brady throwing errant passes and the defense looking porous at times, it was an unusual penalty that ultimately broke the Patriots’ back on Sunday.
Undrafted rookie defensive lineman Chris Jones was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during a missed field goal attempt in overtime. The penalty wasn’t for any sort of excessive celebration or any extracurricular activity after the whistle. Instead, Jones just became the poster child of the NFL’s latest rule change.
During Nick Folk‘s failed 56-yard field goal attempt, Jones stunted down and got behind offensive lineman Will Svitek when the ball was snapped. Jones pushed Svitek forward in an effort to create more pressure up the middle on the kick, and officials were forced to throw a flag. The officials enforcing the rule weren’t the issue in this situation. They had a job to do, just like any one of the players, and they had apparently been given a firm directive from the league to start enforcing the penalty in recent weeks.
The problem lies in the deciding to call the penalty on that play and in that situation.
Here’s what the infraction looks like, via @Gifdsports.
The Patriots had just put up a huge defensive stand, forcing Folk to attempt a field goal well out of his range, and he missed it. The Patriots didn’t block the kick, nor did Jones’ push get Svitek into the backfield. It was a botched attempt, plain and simple, and the call didn’t need to be made.
The rule reads as follows, per FOX Sports’ Mike Pereira: “Rule 913: Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into offensive formation.”
Jones was definitely guilty of breaking that rule — although he was likely taught to do that by the Patriots’ coaching staff — but it’s not as though his push made any difference on the outcome of the play. Beyond that, the decision to enact the penalty at that point was even more egregious.
The flag on Jones was the first time any official had called the penalty this season, and there’s next to no doubt that the exact same play happens multiple times weekly around the NFL. Again, the past ignorance doesn’t make it right, but choosing to call it on a missed field goal attempt in the middle of an otherwise exciting and competitive overtime game just seems like bad business.
The NFL clearly wanted to start enforcing the new rule, which it added during the offseason, and there would never be a “good time” to start doing so, but it’s hard to imagine there would be a worse time do it, either. Jones and the Patriots were the victims of a wrong place, wrong time situation on Sunday. The play was illegal and the penalty was deserved, whether they think so or not.
It’s an ugly way to lose, especially considering that the 15 yards pretty much hand-delivered Folk a chip shot for the game winner, but there’s also no guarantee the result would’ve changed anyhow. Sure, the Patriots were going to get the ball back for another chance at a game-winning drive, and Brady is well known for his late-game heroics, but with the way that offense was moving — or not moving — it can’t be assumed they were going to just march down the field and score.
The way the game ended was unfortunate, as it taints an otherwise flawless football game — at least from a viewer’s perspective — with an oversized stain of controversy. Whatever you like it or not, the rule is here to stay and Sunday’s outcome isn’t going to change for the Patriots. So, get used to it.