The New England Patriots’ game against the New York Jets, and possibly their entire 2022 season, could have gone in a different direction in the second quarter. Luckily for the Patriots, though, they were on the benefitting end of a penalty call that would help keep them afloat versus their division rival.
The NFL game book officially lists the play as follows:
1-10-NYJ 25 (:37) (Shotgun) M.Jones pass short left intended for T.Thornton INTERCEPTED by M.Carter at NYJ 16. M.Carter for 84 yards, TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED by Penalty.
PENALTY on NYJ-J.Franklin-Myers, Roughing the Passer, 13 yards, enforced at NYJ 25 - No Play.
The context of that play is what makes it so intriguing, and one of the biggest swings in the NFL so far this season.
Down 10-3 late in the second quarter, the struggling Patriots offense was in dire need of some positive momentum. Luckily, they were set up in Jets territory by a Ja’Whaun Bentley interception off of New York quarterback Zach Wilson.
The pick allowed New England to set up shop at the Jets 40-yard line with 42 seconds left in the game. With one pass from Mac Jones to Rhamondre Stevenson, the team found itself at the 25-yard line and clearly within in Nick Folk’s field goal range.
One play later, however, disaster struck. Jones and Jakobi Meyers had an apparent miscommunication, Jets cornerback Michael Carter intercepted the pass, and 84 yards later found himself in the end zone for a Jets touchdown. Or so it seemed.
Roughing the passer erases a brutal 84-yard pick six thrown by Mac Jones. pic.twitter.com/H6mByt9emG— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) October 30, 2022
Carter’s teammate John Franklin-Myers was flagged on the play for roughing the passer, resulting in aa 15-yard penalty against the Jets and a new set of downs for New England. Four plays later, Folk kicked a 42-yard field goal to bring New England within four points; his team then went on to score 16 unanswered after that to go up 22-10 and eventually secure an important road victory over a division rival.
“I knew what I was trying to do with it. Just a little miscommunication, but I can’t have those,” Jones said after the game. “Penalties saved us, but definitely want to eliminate those plays and have to watch it and see what we can do better.”
To call that particular penalty one of the biggest moments in Sunday’s game is not just a reactionary statement 24 hours later. After all, the numbers actually show that it was a huge swing in the Patriots’ favor.
How huge? With an assist from Sebastian Carl, one of the co-creators of nflfastR, we can see that the penalty resulted in a swing of 10.57 expected points.
The Patriots entered the down with an EPA of 3.6, meaning that they were likely to at least get a field goal out of their field position in that situation. The play going the other way, however, would have subtracted those expected points while simultaneously adding 7.0 to the Jets, resulting in an EPA of roughly 10.6.
The penalty negated that movement of points, and instead resulted in the Patriots improving not just their field position but also their EPA from 3.6 to 4.6. They ended up not meeting that expectation, settling for the aforementioned Nick Folk field goal.
Nonetheless, the swing created by the roughing the passer was massive. That is true even when comparing it to the rest of the league through the first eight weeks of the season. After all, only six other plays (nullified or not) have created an EPA greater than 10 at this point in 2022. Only one of them has resulted in a larger expected points movement than the roughing the passer call against the Jets on Sunday.
That play — a Justin Herbert interception in Week 2 that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown the other way — produced an EPA of -13.0 from the Los Angeles Chargers’ perspective.
The Jets, unsurprisingly, were not thrilled about the penalty against Franklin-Myers.
“It was a terrible call,” quarterback Zach Wilson, who threw three interceptions against New England, told reporters after the game. “But that’s football. It happens all the time.”
His head coach, Robert Salah, shared a similar opinion.
“10-point swing, was it? 17 maybe, if you count what happened in the second half?” he asked during his own postgame presser. “Yeah, it was a costly penalty.”
Salah is right, it was a costly penalty indeed. And one that might just have helped the Patriots get their season back on track.