The Carolina Panthers certainly were not happy after their 24-6 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 9. Not only did they drop to 4-5 on the year behind an abysmal offensive performance, they also took exception to a play involving linebacker Brian Burns and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
In the late first quarter and with the game in a scoreless tie, Burns sacked Jones from the blindside to cause a fumble that was recovered by Carolina. While the play was a big one for the home team, it also resulted in the defender staying on the ground because of an injury: Jones had grabbed him by the ankle in the ensuing scramble for the football, with Burns getting hurt while trying to escape the QB’s grasp.
Speaking to reporters after the game, fellow Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick called it a “dirty play” that he hoped the league would look into. Head coach Matt Rhule said the he thought “maybe a foul should have been called” against Jones.
The Patriots did not immediately reply to the accusations against their quarterback, with head coach Bill Belichick and Mac Jones himself only being asked about it on Monday. While Belichick defended Jones, the rookie passer himself shared his perspective on the play during an appearance on WEEI’s Merloni & Fauria show.
“After I got hit pretty hard, I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought he had the ball. It’s my job to try to make the tackle. That was pretty much it,” he said.
“Obviously, when you get up and see the ball is actually down on the field a little bit more, it’s just a bang-bang play. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody or anything like that. I was just trying to tackle him and make the play, because I didn’t really know what was going on.”
Jones’ explanation does make sense in the context of the play: he was the last line of defense in the Patriots’ shotgun formation, and it is not unlikely that he instinctively grabbed the opponent nearest to him after fumbling the ball. The result was unfortunate, though, but it does not appear as if any malicious intent was involved in the play.
The Panthers, however, appear to see it in a different light.
“I love Mac Jones. Tremendous competitor. I have no idea what was in his brain,” said Rhule on Monday. “I don’t know what was in Mac’s head. My job on game day on the sidelines is to defend our players. What I don’t want to be is the Carolina Panthers who everybody gets to hit out of bounds and horse-collar and turn their ankles late and nothing ever gets called.”
Regardless of Jones’ intentions, he was not penalized for grabbing Burns by the ankle. The NFL could still fine the young quarterback in the coming days, though: the league will reportedly take a look at the play as part of its standard review process. If found guilty, no discipline beyond a fine should be expected.
Burns, meanwhile, was evaluated on the sidelines after the play and did eventually return to the contest in the second quarter. An apparent foot injury suffered in the fourth period eventually knocked him out of the game for good. At that point, the Patriots were already up 24-6.