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Controversial call ends Patriots game, but it didn’t lose it

Posted by Adam Kaufman  October 21, 2013 05:06 AM

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Well, let’s begin by getting past the irony of the Patriots going 5-1 without Rob Gronkowski before losing the very first game that he was actually on the field … to the Jets.

New England dropped a stunning 30-27 overtime decision to struggling New York on Sunday in the Meadowlands.

It’s always irritating when your team loses, and all the more so when it comes against a team you instinctively dislike as much as the Jets, particularly when that club had lost five in a row. But once you move beyond the result, it’s important to dissect the way in which the Pats lost, since it seems to have multiple interpretations.

Anyone choosing to blame defensive lineman Chris Jones and his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pushing Will Svitek into the offensive formation as Nick Folk launched a potential game-winning 56-yard field goal (which missed wide left) is wrong.

Sure, the rather peculiar decision for the officiating crew to pick such an important juncture to make a call that had literally never been whistled in the National Football League and had no visible impact on the play is a head-scratcher we won’t soon forget, but that doesn’t change the fact that, in the mind of the league, Jones committed a penalty. Even if the explanation did seem a little open to interpretation in the immediate aftermath – especially to Bill Belichick, who insisted after the defeat that his team didn’t push on the second level of defenders – this loss is no more on the refs than it is on Jones. That is to say, minimally at best.

Like you, perhaps, I was among those who impulsively littered Twitter with reactions ranging from, “Did they just make that up?” to “They called that?!” to “I’m so confused – this is the worst call I’ve ever seen!” as Jones’ penalty was being reviewed.

But, they didn’t, they did, and, thanks to Folk’s amended 42-yarder for the win, that book is closed on the guidelines of one of the rule book’s new insertions.

Bill Belichick argues with refs.jpg

The fact of the matter is the Pats never should have been in a position for an official’s controversial call to bring finality to the game in the first place.

Once again, Tom Brady struggled. His offensive line struggled. The injury-riddled defense struggled. Had Jones not committed his infraction and the Pats got the ball back, marched down the field, and escaped with a victory, it would have been because they were lucky, not good.

Brady is typically blame-free because many wear Super Bowl-winning, champagne-splashed goggles, but he had a laundry list of stains, and that’s ignoring the fact that his team had first possession in the extra session.

Give some credit to the Jets’ defense, of course, but Brady fumbled twice and had an interception – his fifth of the year – returned for a touchdown when the Patriots were ahead by 11 to start the second half. Moreover, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes (for 228 yards) for the third time in seven games, and he failed to throw a touchdown for the second time in three contests – after having connected for a TD in 52 straight games prior. The veteran’s usually not-so-sure-handed receivers only dropped two passes. The problem was that Brady was often off the mark. In fact, he landed just 4-of-20 passes of longer than 10 yards.

You’d almost forget Gronkowski was generally solid in his season debut, finishing with eight catches on 17 targets for 114 yards, since it did little to shine a better light on Brady’s afternoon.

The men responsible for Brady’s safety kept him healthy (let’s be thankful for something), but not upright. The QB was sacked at least four times for the third consecutive week, and his offense converted on a lousy 1-of-12 tries on third down.

That takes us to the defense. Absent the likes of Aqib Talib, Tommy Kelly, and two men already lost for the season in Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, the Pats’ defenders allowed the Jets to complete 11-of-21 third down conversions.

New York entered the game averaging 17.3 points per game to rank 29th in the NFL. Conversely, New England’s defense was allowing 16.2, good for third in the league. Again, Gang Green reached 30 points, albeit with one touchdown that arrived via Brady’s arm. Whether by land or air, Geno Smith’s resilient bunch was able to do virtually whatever it wanted on Sunday while keeping the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. Four penalties for 60 yards on the defense didn’t help either.

In the end, the Jets enjoyed their fourth game-winning drive courtesy of, “Mark Sanchez, who?” and the Pats are still a respectable 5-2 and in first in the division.

As fans, we often chastise athletes for not being accountable. Not Chris Jones. Commend him for owning up to his mistake and admitting that he was aware of the rule, though it had slipped his mind, and be thankful the Patriots gave the undrafted rookie a lift home after the game. Dig a little deeper and you may actually be pleased with his overall performance, which included two sacks, 10 tackles, and a pair of quarterback hits. Here’s hoping that’s a promising indicator of what he’s capable of in the weeks ahead because the defense will need it.

In the meantime, also recognize that even in weeks after doing the unthinkable – as we marveled at against the Saints on that special Sunday – there are those rare occasions when Tom Brady is to blame when something goes wrong. Remember that before jonesing for a kid named Chris’s release or pointing fingers at a ref for making a call that’s probably been missed dozens of times already this season at far less significant moments.

I should, too.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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