Last year, the Patriots lost to the Jets on a field goal, thanks to the throwing of a flag on a failed effort that gave the Manhattanites a Mulligan.
This year, the Jets didn’t get a second chance to get their first win since Week One.
It happened on the last play of the game, a 58-yard field goal try that would have delivered, if good, a 28-27 victory for the Jets. As explained (and demonstrated with an Instagram video that probably won’t be up for very long unless the dude who posted it acquired the express, written consent of the NFL) by Dom Cosentino of NJ.com, an official seems to keep Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower from lining up directly over the center at the snap of the ball.
Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 provides that any player within one yard of the line of scrimmage on a field goal try “must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads at the snap.” So if Hightower had planned to walk up to the center — and to remain right in front of him until the snap — a flag would have (or at least should have) been thrown, and the Jets would have (or at least should have) gotten a chance to kick the ball from five yards closer.
So is it appropriate for an official to help a guy avoid a penalty by getting him lined up the right way? Some would argue persuasively that officials should let nature takes its own course, allowing the improper alignment and then enforcing the rule against it. Others would point out that officials routinely help players get properly lined up so that the game isn’t bogged down with flags; for example, receivers often check with the line judge or the head linesman to ensure that they are on or off the line of scrimmage before the snap.
We’ve asked the league for comment on whether it’s appropriate for the officials to intervene in this specific situation.
Ultimately, it may not matter. Right after Hightower is steered away from the snapper, the Patriots’ entire defensive line shifts on both sides, sliding into position just outside the snapper’s shoulder pads on either side. If Hightower was planning to walk all the way up to the snapper, he probably didn’t plan on staying there. It looks like the goal was to distract the snapper, with the intent of stepping back out as the other players shifted.
Of course, the snapper could have opted under those specific circumstances (if they had happened) to initiate the play prematurely, hopeful that the flag would be thrown and the 58-yard try would become a 53-yard attempt.
We don’t know what would have happened because the official kept Hightower from completing his walk up to the line of scrimmage directly over the snapper.
UPDATE 9:32 a.m. ET: The NFL tells PFT that this is “standard operating procedure,” aimed at promoting player safety.