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NFL: Key block during Jets-Patriots punt return came from the side

Mike Florio and Myles Simmons share their mutual disbelief listening to Zach Wilson's press conference comments following the New York Jets' loss to the New England Patriots.

The Jets and Patriots seemed to be headed for overtime. Until they weren’t.

The score was knotted at three. The Jets were punting with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

Marcus Jones caught the ball at the New England 16. He broke to the right sideline. And off he went.

He cut back inside near the 50, foiling punter Braden Mann’s apparent plan to knock Jones out of bounds. Jones eluded Mann -- and Jones was gone.

Justin Hardee had the final chance to catch Jones. Hardee was closing in on a last-ditch effort to keep Jones from scoring.

Enter Mack Wilson Sr. He hit Hardee, knocking him to the ground and allowing Jones to score.

But was it a legal block? It looked like it was a block in the back. The league says it was not.

Per the NFL, the key is the direction which the force originated from. The officials determined the block originated from the side, and so they did not throw a flag.

But that’s not what the rulebook says. At Rule 3, Section 4, the rulebook defines a block in the back as “a block that is delivered from behind an opponent above his waist.” The rulebook also says that it is not a block in the back “if both of the blocker’s hands are on the opponent’s side.” However, the rulebook plainly states that, “if either hand is on the back, it is a foul.”

Also, Rule 12, Section 1, Article 3 defines an illegal block as occurring when a player “blocks an opponent (from behind) in the back above the opponent’s waist, or uses his hands or arms to push an opponent from behind in a manner that affects his movement, except in close-line play.”

Watch the video. Watch it again. Initial contact may have come from the side, but Wilson instantaneously (if not simultaneously) shoved Hardee in the back, too. With at least one hand, possibly two. The shove in the back (not the side) is what put Hardee on the ground.

Was first impact technically on the side? Maybe. Did Wilson shove Hardee in the back with both hands? Absolutely.

And here’s the key, as it relates to parsing the language of the officials rules. Given that the rulebook makes it clear that it’s a foul if either hand is on the opponent’s back, common sense suggests that any exception based on initial contact coming from the side before one or both hands are placed on the opponent’s back, that exception would be printed in the rulebook. Without a “first contact from the side” exception, it’s a foul if the blocker puts his hands on the opponent’s back, and shoves.

Here, Wilson put both hands on Hardee’s back. And shoved.

So it looks like it should have been a foul. It would have taken the touchdown off the board. The Patriots would have gotten the ball at the 25. The hit happened at the 15. A 10-yard penalty would have been applied.

It would have resulted in the Patriots trying a field goal of roughly 43 yards for the win in regulation. Coincidentally, Patriots kicker Nick Folk had missed both a 43-yarder and a 44-yarder earlier in the game.

So, yes, if the flag had been thrown, the game quite possibly would have ended up in overtime. And if it had gone to overtime, who knows what would have happened?