New York Jets field goal kicker Nick Folk had just missed a 56-yard attempt that would have given his team a 30-27 win in overtime. But the kick sailed wide, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 46-yard line.
Because of a new NFL rule instituted before the start of this season, the Jets were able to keep the ball. Patriots defensive lineman Chris Jones became the first player in NFL history to be flagged for “pushing” a teammate.
The new rule, officially entered into the NFL rule book as Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) 2, states that “Team B players [defending a kick] cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.”
That’s the penalty that Jones was flagged for. He was seen on video pushing the backside of teammate Will Svitek directly into the middle of the Jets’ offensive formation.
He was immediately flagged, a 15-yard penalty was assessed, and the Jets retained possession, this time with a first down at the Patriots’ 31-yard line. With another chance just plays later, Folk converted on a 42-yard field goal to give the Jets a 30-27 win.
To say that the Patriots were stunned is an obvious understatement. Head coach Bill Belichick, who normally doesn’t have a whole lot to say in normal postgame comments, was even more stoic, and even downright flabbergasted.
Belichick felt the call was wrong, saying, “We weren’t on the second level when we pushed him, no.”
But was it the call that was the reason for the Patriots losing a game they should have won?
In a word, no.
This was a game that the Patriots should have had well in hand far before the controversial ruling. Quarterback Tom Brady alluded to that fact in his postgame comments.
“That’s just a guy trying to play hard,” Brady said. “There are so many other things we could have done to win. I certainly need to play better.”
Brady completed less than half his passes (22-for-46) for the third time this season. It’s obvious that he’s been hurt by key injuries to receivers (Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski) and opposing defenses doing a much better job of overall coverage and pressure. Brady also threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
In addition, the Patriots offense failed once again to come up with plays when needed. They were just 1-for-12 in converting third downs on the afternoon.
“We just haven’t been good on third down all year,” Brady told Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe. “Obviously, that’s a big problem. You can’t stay on the field and help our defense out. We have to be better in all areas, but we certainly need to be better on third downs and in the red area. There are no excuses. We just didn’t play well.
“I [have] to do a better job out there. That’s what I need to do.”
While Chris Jones will go down in history as the first player ever to be flagged for pushing a player’s butt, he simply can’t be blamed for the loss. This was a winnable game for the Patriots, who have owned the Jets in recent years.
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich was also quick to deflect blame away from Jones, saying that the entire team is responsible for the loss.
“There’s a lot of plays we left out there — offense, defense, special teams,” Ninkovich said. “This is a team loss.”
It’s easy to lay blame on a new rule, but it’s also important to look at the total picture. And that snapshot clearly reveals that the Patriots gave this game away far earlier than Jones’ controversial penalty.
It’s certainly convenient to blame the Patriots’ loss on the new rule, but it simply isn’t accurate.