Not so long ago, an AFC East team with a quarterback in his first year as a starter benefited in a big moment from an obscure, illogical rule. The referee’s call, perfectly correct but a head-scratcher to most all of those watching, helped to turn the team’s fortunes around. I’m talking, of course, about what happened in the Patriots game — the AFC divisional round game at home against the Raiders in January 2002, the Tuck Rule Game, the night that made Tom Brady’s legend.
What, you had a different game in mind?
It’s late afternoon on Monday, and Patriots fans have not yet ceased their crowing about the enforcement of an obscure but not at all illogical NFL rule in overtime on Sunday, which gave the Jets 15 yards and a new set of downs after Nick Folk missed a field goal. (The improved field position gave Folk an easier-to-make field goal than the 56-yarder he had just hooked left, and the Jets won, 30-27.)
Rule 9.1.3(b)(2), which concerns field goals, states: “[Defensive] players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.” There’s nothing about it that’s hard to grasp, nothing about it that would make officials wonder if they had applied the rule correctly on the overtime play, where Chris Jones pushed Will Svitek toward the pile. The Jets had seen the Patriots do it in prior weeks and told the refs to look for it. And it happened: a defensive player did push a teammate on the line of scrimmage into the pile. In contrast to much of what you’ll find in sports rulebooks (indeed, in contrast to what you would have found with the tuck rule, before it was stripped from the rulebook), the rule is written in plain English, intelligible to even the most lunkheaded among us. And yet: all this yapping!
Funny enough, the league added the rule before the 2013 season in hopes of protecting long snappers and blockers on the field-goal unit who are stuck in place while they fight off a collapsing push of very heavy men. Surely the Patriots — who lost tight end Rob Gronkowski last year after he hurt his arm blocking on an extra point — would recognize the importance of minimizing injuries on special teams plays. And surely Patriots fans would only see all that more clearly on Sunday, given that the game against the Jets was Gronkowski’s 2013 debut — the left arm he injured on the point-after try became infected. But no! Tweeted head Patriots fan Bill Simmons, with 1,843 sentiment-affirming retweets: “Lesson from Pats-Jets game: we can stop concussions by preventing players from lightly pushing their teammates 12 yards away from a play.” (No, Bill, every NFL safety protocol addresses concussions. How have you so quickly forgotten the Brady — as in Tom Brady — Rule?) Other Boston fans and wrongheaded journalists, as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky illustrated, instead believed they had found evidence of a conspiracy wherein the NFL changed the rule after the game to cover its mistake up.
It’d be simply stupid and sour-grapes were it not coming from a perpetually whiny, entitled, and front-running fanbase-cum–press-corps with a persecution complex the size of the Natick Mall. These are the people who ran Wes Welker out of town (aiming to replace him with a combination of Julian Edelman and the never-not-injured Danny Amendola) after the 2012 season and have since spent much of 2013 wondering why Tom Brady’s production has slowed down. (To wit: When Simmons wasn’t blathering about Rule 9.1.3(b)(2), he was explaining that Brady had “turn[ed] into the long-lost Detmer brother.” Apparently Brady’s heroics on the Sunday prior had not moved Bill Simmons.) This is what the Patriots crew does. Wrote the Boston Herald today, about the team’s tight end, who set a career high for receptions in his first game back from injury: “But really, when you look at the big picture, he wasn’t Gronk. Not totally. He was slightly off, unsure of himself…” Season debut, eight catches, 114 yards: not good enough. Ah, yes. That’s the Patriot Way.