Aaron Leibowitz | The Fan
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 08:10
Roger Goodell sure is lucky America’s obsessed with football. His ex-players are brain damaged, his league endured a work stoppage two years ago and now, in the NFL’s latest fiasco, a new rule that no one seems to understand has decided the outcome of a game. Let’s call it “Push-gate.”
The end of Sunday’s game between the Jets and Patriots was, to say the least, bizarre. With the score tied at 27 in overtime, Jets kicker Nick Folk missed a 56-yard field goal attempt. But the try was nullified due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Four plays later, Folk nailed a 42-yarder to win.
On the initial 56-yard attempt, referee Jerome Bulger had ruled that Jones pushed a teammate on the line of scrimmage into the formation, a violation of Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (B2), instituted prior to the start of the 2013 season.
Bulger was correct: Jones had indeed pushed a teammate on the line of scrimmage. But Patriots head coach Bill Belichick contested that, because Jones himself was on the line of scrimmage at the snap, the play was legal. It would have been illegal, Belichick said, had Jones begun at the “second level,” away from the line.
This is where the story gets weird.
The official NFL Rulebook mentions nothing about the “second level” with regard to the new rule. It states: “Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.” Based on the official rule, Bulger made the right call.
But in a story published on Sept. 3 on NFL.com, the rule was explained like this: “Team B players NOT AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE AT THE SNAP cannot push players at the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.” (Emphasis mine.)
Those nine added words might have changed the outcome of Sunday’s game.
About two hours after Belichick’s press conference, those words had magically disappeared from the article. (Nice work by Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet to spot this.) Still accompanying the article was a video of NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino explaining the rule — and using the term “second level” in the process.
Wait ... what?
One small editor’s note at the top of the article helps explain the situation: “The rule proposal was amended before it was passed to ban pushing of any ‘Team B’ teammate at the line of scrimmage.” In other words, sometime in the two days between the original posting of the article and the opening kickoff of the 2013 season, the wording of the rule was changed to remove the part about the second level.
Still, the whole thing seems sleazy. Late Sunday night, NFL.com ran a new article, in which Blandino explained why Bulger’s call was correct.
“Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn’t happy with the call, which was explained to all players and coaches by Blandino’s representatives during training camp,” the story reads. Then, the author states that the change was implemented in March, and he presents the rule — without even acknowledging that those nine fateful words ever existed.
Belichick is no fool; if anyone knows the rulebook like the back of his hand, it’s the Patriots’ hoodie-wearing mastermind. The fact that he believed the “second level” language was still part of the rule suggests poor communication on the part of the NFL.
Instead of scrambling to save face, for once the league ought to try being honest — you know, act human for a change. At the very least, it should acknowledge that a last-minute rule change contributed to Sunday’s mass confusion.
But we all know that won’t happen. Chances are the NFL will go on playing its fans for fools.