By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Sometimes, NFL rules can be confusing, leaving lifetime fans as puzzled as casual fans when a referee makes an announcement. Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium was one of those times.
In this instance, it came in the form of a “blindside block” delivered by rookie linebacker Anfernee Jennings, a call which negated an 82-yard punt return touchdown by Gunner Olszewski.
The play in question can be seen here:
Somehow in the NFL rule book this is an illegal blindside block and a 15-yard penalty.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 29, 2020
Everybody who’s watched football in their lives saw that as a good block to finish off a punt return for a touchdown. Nevertheless, the penalty flag flew. So instead of a touchdown to take a potential four-point lead, the Patriots ended up having to settle for a game-tying field goal after starting their drive back at the Cardinals’ 39-yard line.
Bill Belichick was unhappy.
Bill Belichick still letting the refs hear it about that Jennings block/penalty pic.twitter.com/pkDxnSTzw5
— . (@FTBBurner11) November 29, 2020
Immediately, confusion followed this play, because the word “blindside” indicates that the blocked player could not have seen the contact coming. Clearly in this case, the two players were facing each other, and thus no “blinside” was involved. As such, Patriots fans and commentators were a bit perplexed as to such a ruling being made in an NFL game.
Alas, the problem seems to be one of phrasing and terminology rather than a misapplication of the rules.
You see, in 2019, the NFL banned “blindside blocks,” which meant all blocks delivered by a player moving parallel to his own goal line or toward his own goal line. The 2019 preseason showed at least one instance of this rule creating problems …
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) August 18, 2019
… and a preseason block by Olszewski himself actually shed some brighter light on this rule which went against everything that football is supposed to be:
I have seen multiple football games in my life. A dozen or so, maybe. Even an expert such as myself can’t understand what was illegal about this activity. pic.twitter.com/EmmvOJfoIl
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) August 30, 2019
Neither block involved a “blindside” hit, but the language of that “blindside” rule doesn’t actually require the contact to come from the blindside in order to be considered illegal.
Does that make a whole lot of sense? No. Did the NFL create this confusion by naming it “illegal blindside block” when it does not actually mean “blindside block”? Of course. Has the NFL done anything to amend what should be a pretty simple fix? You know the answer to that one.
After the game, referee Bill Vinovich was asked by a pool reporter about the play. Vinovich said three officials threw flags on the play because “it was a block back towards his own end line, with forceable contact.” In terms of what Jennings could have done in that spot to avoid a penalty, Vinovich said the player would “either have to shield him or use his hands.”
And so, the play in Foxboro was a simple case of proper rule application and a poorly named rule. It won’t be the last time.