clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

No, the refs did not miss an illegal block in the back on the Patriots’ game-winning punt return

Related: Patriots film review: Marcus Jones’ game-winner against Jets was a full-team effort

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Following the New England Patriots’ 10-3 win over the New York Jets there was some speculation, both on NFL Network and social media, whether the referees had missed a penalty on the game’s decisive play. The last-second punt return touchdown by Patriots rookie Marcus Jones appeared to have been made possible by an illegal block in the back.

The block in question happened toward the tail-end of the play, with Jones only 20 yards from the end zone. With Justin Hardee chasing him down from behind, Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson came flying in to prevent the Jets’ gunner from impacting the play.

Wilson made contact with Hardee, taking him to the ground in the process. The block cleared the way for Jones to reach the end zone with five seconds left on the clock.

Was the block legal, though? The refs on the field apparently thought it was, and so did Wilson.

“I feel like I was in front of him and I feel like it was pretty clean,” he said in the locker room after the game. “I was going to be super disappointed if they would’ve called it. I’m just happy they didn’t and we was able to get the win. ...

“As I was running, I felt confident that I was in front of him. That’s why I blocked him the way I did. I feel like, if it was close, I probably would’ve just given him a [push].”

Of course, Wilson might not be the most unbiased source to assess the play. And referees have also made their fair share of questionable calls, so them missing one in such a high-stakes situation would not have been a surprise.

According to officiating expert Ben Austro of Football Zebras, however, they made the right no-call. Wilson’s block was indeed clean.

Taking a look at the approach and the follow-through, we can see that contact initiated from the side. The reason the foul exists is that a blocker who has been beaten cannot just throw a desperation push in the back. The rule states that a simultaneous push to the side and the back is a foul. In this case — and we are using the still frames to illustrate the point of contact, but review the video in full as well — the contact is initiated from the side, then the hand touches the back after the block has been delivered. In real time, officials will see this is delivered to the side, and not a blocker that has been passed and reaches for the side in addition to the illegal block in the back.

Hardee himself also did not blame the officiating for the outcome of the play.

“They got a good block, they were out front,” he said about he play. “I tried to chase him down, I obviously wasn’t close enough. I tried to track him down, and I got hit. Whether it was on the side or in the back it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t up to my standards, it wasn’t up to the Jets standards.”

Jones’ last-second touchdown helped the Patriots sweep the Jets for a seventh straight season, and to leap-frog them in the standings. While both teams are now 6-4 on the year, New England holds a decisive head-to-head edge.