This is a silly thing, but it's gotten enough traction on Twitter, and enough tipsters have emailed us Zapruder breakdowns of it that we may as well address it. No, the ref nudging a New England linebacker out of the infraction zone on the Patriots' game-winning field goal block wasn't enacting a league bias toward the Pats. It was a normal officiating procedure.
Friend of the program Dom Cosentino got ahold of NFL spokesman Greg Aiello for NJ.com. Here's how Aiello explains both the rule (that defenders must be outside the long-snapper's shoulder pads) and the official assisting in lining up:
"It is a standard officiating procedure that occurs regularly," league spokesman Greg Aiello told NJ.com in an email. "In fact, it is on [vice president for officiating] Dean Blandino's video that went to the teams [Thursday] and will be on the version of it that goes to the media [Friday]. That rule was adopted for player safety purposes, another good reason to help avoid violations in advance."
"Helping players get lined up properly takes place in other pre-snap situations to avoid administrative penalties," Aiello said. "It's a longstanding standard officiating mechanic."
This is an obvious and appreciated point of emphasis—fewer plays blown dead because of a pre-snap alignment, which no one likes watching, and which if left uncorrected would put players in the same danger that the rules are there to prevent. It would make no sense. Still sucks for the Jets, though.