EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Maybe Rob Gronkowski lost the ball in the sun. Certainly, we saw a penalty that is called once in a blue moon decide the game.
Maybe that’s what it takes for the Patriots to finally lose a game in the AFC East. Or maybe the Patriots, unable to convert on third down, shredded by injuries on defense, are beginning to catch up with their fate.
This much is certain. A big, beefy New England Patriot did something unusual Sunday, a little bit stupid, and it all got caught on camera. No, we’re not talking about Gronk ripping his shirt off and dancing in some nightclub. We’re talking about what defensive tackle Chris Jones did in overtime at MetLife Stadium in what quickly turned into the Patriots’ 30-27 loss to the Jets.
“It’s my mistake, nobody else,” Jones said after his 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct gave way to Nick Folk’s winning 42-yard field goal. “I’ve got to man up to it.”
The NFL put in a new rule this year. As referee Jerome Boger explained, “It is a rule change that a teammate cannot push a teammate into the opponent’s formation.”
A t first blush, the rule might seem goofier than Gronk, but it’s exactly what Jones did on Folk’s long-shot 56-yard field goal attempt. The kick was no good, but Jones is clearly seen on the replay shoving teammate Will Svitek into the pile.
“The umpire’s flag went up almost instantaneously as he observed it,” Boger said. “We just enforced it.”
Hell of a time for the official to pull that flag out his pocket, wasn’t it? How dare he be correct? Both Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, and Mike Periera, former NFL head of officiating, later said it was the first time that the penalty was ever called.
“It was just something I decided to do,” Jones said. “I was just trying to block a field goal. I was trying to get that extra little push up the middle. I made a mistake. I should be more aware.”
There is a reason that the rule was implemented. The NFL Competition Committee found that injuries were caused by overloading one side of the line and players pushing teammates through gaps. The snapper becomes a defenseless player.
Redskins center Will Montgomery, who helped initiate the change, told this to NFL.com: “We played the Bengals and I had two guys over me and two guys behind them pushing, so it was basically four-on-one. My foot slipped and I went down and did a split and pulled a hamstring. I’m like, ‘Man, this is ridiculous.’ It’s literally impossible to hold up that much force.”
When asked about it afterward, however, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, “You can’t push from the second level, but I don’t think we did that.” However, there’s nothing in the rule book apparently about where players line up, so it’s not clear what Belichick was talking about. He was in no mood to elaborate.
“It’s something we talked about probably during camp,” Jones said. “It skipped out of my mind.”
He said he was shocked when he heard that he was being called for the penalty.
“I was confused at first, I didn’t know what was going on,” Jones said. “I figured it out. The mistake is mine. I take it on my shoulders. It’s tough. It’s hard.”
Give Jones, a rookie out of Bowling Green, marks for taking full blame. Give him marks, too, for not embracing a questioner’s pointing out that he had a terrific game to that point with 10 tackles and two sacks. With injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, the guy has done well.
“A loss is a loss,” Jones said. “If it was a win, it would be nice. When you lose, it takes everything away.”
“It sucks. It hurts.”
And it took some shine off All Gronk, All The Time.
After the surgeries, the histrionics, the finger-pointing, let Gronk history show that he finally took the field for the first time this season at 1:16 p.m. in the bright sunshine. Two minutes later, Brady found Gronkowski for a 12-yard gain. Four plays after that, Brady targeted Gronk down the middle of the field for a 30-yard play to the Jets 1.
Gronk also made a huge 22-yard reception on the final drive of regulation that helped set up the tying field goal and he barely missed stabbing a one-handed catch that would have allowed him to get into end zone.
“I’m so mad at myself,” Gronk said. “I brought it in and dropped it.”
When it was over, Brady had targeted Gronk 17 times. He had eight catches for 114 yards. Asked if more plays open up for him with the big guy drawing so much attention, Brady answered: “Of course. He’s one of the best players in the NFL. You saw what he did today and it was his first game back.”
“I’ve got to come down with some of those plays in the future,” Gronk said. “I don’t want to put it like (he was a little rusty). That’s what practice is for, to not have rust. There’s no excuses.”
Chris Jones certainly didn’t make any.
Distributed by MCT Information Services