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The Top 20 Patriots Moments of 2020: Number 15

Our offseason countdown continues with the Number 15 Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2020.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Are Lazy Fridays still a thing now that we’re all still working from home? Because if so, I’m definitely having myself a Lazy Friday. So I figured I’d knock another moment off our Top 20 countdown.

The list so far:

20. A diving N’Keal Harry grab in the end zone makes it a game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
19. A last second 51 yard Nick Folk field goal caps off a comeback win against the New York Jets.
18. Two red zone trips, zero total points against the Kansas City Chiefs.
17. A fourth down option read to James White puts the Patriots on the board against the Arizona Cardinals.
16. A last-second goal line stand prevents the Patriots from stealing a game on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.

Every year, I put a moment on this list in which, due to some kind of blown call, the Patriots get screwed. Glad I’m getting it out of the way here at 15.

15. A nonsensical blindside blocking flag negates an 82 yard punt return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.

Nobody ever thought that the November 29th matchup between the Patriots and Cardinals would turn out to be one of the best games of New England’s season when the schedule first dropped, but that absolutely turned out to be the case. Arizonas was 6-4 and right in the thick of the playoff push while the Patriots were struggling to keep their season alive at 4-6. Both teams knew this game mattered, and they played like it; the Cardinals jumped out to an early first quarter lead, but the Patriots came back to make it a 10-7 game at halftime. Neither offense could really get much going, and it seemed like this was one of those games where a single play or two was going to end up deciding it.

And that play seemed to come early in the third quarter, when Arizona’s first drive of the half stalled at their own 48 yard and they were forced to punt. Given the field position, Andy Lee boomed one high rather than far, hoping to pin the Pats deep, but the ball only sailed 34 yards and Gunner Olszewski caught it in stride at the 18.

Gunner zigzagged his way down the sideline, found a gap, and turned on the next gear to take it to the house. He only had one man to beat, linebacker Ezekiel Turner, who was gaining ground and in position to make the touchdown-saving tackle. Luckily for Gunner, rookie Anfernee Jennings was in perfect position to give the block Olszewski needed to spring him the last 25 yards. Jennings stopped, planted his feet, lowered his shoulder, and hit Turner center mass in the chest to knock him off his feet and allow Olszewski to waltz into the end zone untouched. It was an 82 yard score in which every man on the punt team did his job to perfection and gave the Patriots their first lead in a game where points were at a premium.

But wait...flag on the field.

Jennings was called for a blindside block, negating the score and moving the Patriots back 15 yards from the spot of the foul. Instead of 14-10 Patriots, it was 1st and 10 on the Arizona 39 yard line.

Bill Belichick was livid as the camera caught him screaming at the sideline referee. Nobody on the Patriots had any idea what was going on. Jennings was most confused of all. But none of that mattered, because a flag is a flag.

The Patriots took that drive down to the four yard line before an incomplete pass forced a FG attempt instead. 10-10.

The live feed brought in Dean Blandino, who said that he didn’t like the call at all. He did, however, mention that the league is now trying to get players to shield the opponent, rather than lower their shoulder. In other words, Jennings should have just stood there and allowed a 6’2”, 215 pound professional linebacker running at full speed to just knock him over. Because, you know...player safety and all that.

I’d like to hope that, as the league continues to pretend to care about their players in order to generate the necessary positive PR that will allow it to keep making money, this Jennings block will be shown as the perfect example of how to do it right. Stop, set your feet, lower your pads, and make a direct, clean shoulder hit directly to the chest of a pursuing defender, making sure to avoid any helmet to helmet contact and keeping yourself directly in his line of sight to avoid getting completely taken out. According to the NFL rulebook, a blindside block is defined as “a foul if a player initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.” That Jennings was not running toward or parallel to is own end line an clearly stops and plants his feet means that it was a bad call. There was absolutely nothing about it that was even remotely illegal. I mean look at the photo accompanying this article; how can you block any better than that? What do you want these guys do to, start slap fighting?

The league stood by it, of course, because they almost always do...and ultimately it didn’t end up mattering since the Patriots got the W anyway. But calls like this always end up putting a damper on great games, and there’s nothing worse than losing (and to a degree, winning) a game because the refs got it so blatantly wrong. Human error is a part of sports, and if we couldn’t whine about officiating, I don’t know what we’d all do with ourselves... so whatever. But this should have been a TD.

Check out the play here.

Full game highlights here.