America, say hello to Rule 9.1.3(b)(2). One of the NFL's newest rules, enacted this offseason in the name of player safety, controversially won the game for the Jets by giving them a second chance after a missed field goal. It was called correctly, but a misinterpretation of the rule by Bill Belichick, and a burgeoning conspiracy theory in New England, would have you believe the NFL is out to get the Patriots.
As Nick Folk attempted a 56-yard field goal in overtime, rookie tackle Chris Jones pushed teammate Will Svitek into the Jets' offensive line:
Instead of taking over with great field position after Folk's miss, the Patriots were assessed a 15-yard penalty. Three players later, Folk tried again and nailed it from 42 yards out. Game.
Because it's a new and obscure rule, one that had never been called before, everyone immediately ran to look it up. The first Google result was an NFL.com story from Sept. 3 explaining the rule before it was officially passed, and it contained an interesting sentence:
"Team B players not on the line of scrimmage at the snap cannot push players on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."
This would appear to exonerate Jones, who was at the line of scrimmage at the snap. This is, presumably, what Bill Belichick saw when he looked up the rule immediately after the game. In his postgame press conference, Belichick said he didn't believe the Patriots had committed a penalty: "You can't push on the second level. I didn't think we did that."
Soon after, the NFL.com story changed. Now, that same sentence has been edited to read,
"Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."
CSN New England's Tom E. Curran noted the change and publicized it, posting a screengrab of the "before" version. A game of telephone took over, with Barstool Sports claiming the NFL had changed the actual rule to justify the officials' blown call.
But here's the important part, which has gotten lost in the controversy: A post on NFL.com is not the NFL rulebook. It's just a news story, written by a fallible editor, and since it was published before the rule was officially passed, it did not have the final wording accurate. (Same goes for the accompanying video by league VP of officiating Dean Blandino—it was recorded before the final wording was settled on.)
Once everyone started citing the (incorrect) story, NFL.com went back corrected it. That's when the conspiracy theory began. But the actual rule never changed. Here's how 9.1.3(b)(2) reads, and has always read:
(b) When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation:
(2) Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.
There is not, nor has there ever been, a mention of the "second level." Whether Jones was on the line of scrimmage or not is irrelevant. All that matters is that Svitek was on the line of scrimmage, and that Jones pushed him. He was, and he did.
The rule was interpreted correctly (except for referee Jerome Boger announcing unsportsmanlike conduct; it should have been unnecessary roughness). Chris Jones knew he screwed up:
"Yeah, it was something we talked about probably during camp and stuff, and it just slipped out of my mind," he said. "So I just, it was just my mistake, nobody else's. I've just got to man up and fix it next time."
Jones knew the rule. The officials knew the rule. (Belichick, by citing an inaccurate news story, all but admitted he didn't know the rule himself.) Complain all you want about a strange penalty that didn't affect the play essentially giving the Jets the game, but there was no chicanery here: just an obscure rule popping up at the most crucial of times. That should be familiar enough to Patriots fans.