By Michael Parente
For the sake of clarity, let me get this straight – more than a decade after the “tuck rule,” arguably the most obscure, yet fortuitous, call in NFL history, Patriots’ fans are suddenly questioning the timing and necessity of Sunday’s penalty on defensive tackle Chris Jones in New England’s overtime loss to the Jets?
Maybe it’s the ALCS hangover affecting our fan base’s cognitive reasoning, but it’d be in everyone’s best interest to drop the “woe is me!” act and focus on the real reason New England lost the game – its offense sucks. The Patriots finished 1-for-12 on third downs and Tom Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second time this season after throwing one in 52 consecutive games dating back to 2010, unless, of course, you count the pick-six he threw to Jets’ defensive back Antonio Allen in the third quarter. And this was with Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup catching a team-high eight passes on 17 targets.
Entering Sunday, three Patriots’ receivers ranked among the top six in the NFL in dropped passes, and they did little to help their cause against the Jets. One of those three, rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, dropped another pass on Sunday. Even Gronkowski let one slip through his fingertips. It’s no wonder Brady has only completed 56.9 percent of his passes, the lowest percentage of his career. You’d be up the creek, too, if your best receiver was in Denver chest-bumping Peyton Manning while his replacement was on Queer Street after getting flattened in last week’s win over the Saints.
The Patriots led this game by 11 at the half, so it should’ve never gotten to overtime, but, in the name of fairness, it’s still impossible to ignore the impact of the call against Jones. With Nick Folk lining up for a game-winning field-goal attempt in overtime, Jones received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pushing teammate Will Svitek into the formation, a clear violation of Rule 9-1-3, which clearly states “players cannot push teammates on line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.” This is a new rule implemented during the past offseason as a way to protect offensive linemen from injury, and Sunday at the Meadowlands just so happened to be the first time it was actually called during a game, giving Folk another chance to win it after his first attempt from 56 yards out sailed wide left. Folk’s second attempt, this time from 42 yards out, split the uprights, lifting the Jets to a dramatic 30-27 win.
At first, head coach Bill Belichick claimed the officials made the wrong call, then, upon further review, admitted he misinterpreted the rule, similar to six years ago when he and his video staff misinterpreted the rule that clearly states you can’t film opposing teams’ signals from the sideline.
Just like the “tuck rule,” another rule no one had heard of until it was called during the Patriots’ 2001 AFC divisional playoff win over the Oakland Raiders, the now-infamous “push rule” that debuted Sunday was, in fact, the right call. The timing of the call is irrelevant, as it should be; the same people complaining about this rule being enforced in overtime of an NFL game are the same degenerates who don’t think you should call traveling in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Anyone who has the audacity – intentional or not – to violate a rule in a big spot deserves whatever punishment he or she receives. To hell with Jones and to hell with anyone who thinks a referee, umpire or official should enforce rules at his discretion. We have rules for a reason. If we're going to decide to enforce rules whenever we feel like it, we might as well stop keeping score, too. Where do we draw the line? The “tuck rule” was almost never called before Charles Woodson strip-sacked Brady in the “Snow Bowl” 11 years ago, nor is it called that much nearly a decade later. Had the officials not gotten it right back then, Bob Kraft might not have any Super Bowl trophies in his display case.
We do a great job here in New England of masking the real issue. Complaining about the officials is like our cortisone shot. If you need a referee to give you a break by either not doing his job or flat-out missing a call, you have other problems you need to address. The Patriots have plenty of them, starting with the fact they can’t catch and can’t score. That alone might keep them from winning another Super Bowl, not their misinterpretation of the rules.
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