FOXBOROUGH – In the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, Tom Brady was the victim of a strip sack by Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson.
At the time, it appeared the Patriots would be backed up for a significant loss after the ball was recovered by Nate Solder. If it were that simple, they would've faced a 4th-and-long and settled for a long Stephen Gostkowski field goal or a punt.
But it wasn't that simple.
Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon, while diving toward the loose ball, batted it down the field toward Miami's goal line, eliciting a 10-yard penalty for doing so.
It's Rule 12, Section 4, Article 1:
It is an illegal bat if:
(a) a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball in the field of play toward his opponent’s goal line; or
(b) a player of either team bats or punches a loose ball (that has touched the ground) in any direction, if it is in either end zone; or
(c) an offensive player bats a backward pass in flight toward his opponent’s goal line.
Penalty: For illegal batting or punching the ball: Loss of 10 yards. For enforcement, treat as a foul during a backward pass or fumble (see 8-7-7). If the foul is by the defense, it is an automatic first down.
Vernon did not want to say the play was a game-changer afterward, but it allowed the Patriots to follow up with a touchdown three plays later, going up on their opponents by 10 points and the game's final score, 27-17, with 7:18 remaining.
"It impacted a lot," Vernon conceded. "The game just didn't go our way. We have to give credit to the Patriots, they played a heck of a game and we didn't come out to win."
The officials did their part to explain.
"The official on the field, what he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act," said referee Walt Anderson in a pool report. "Players cannot bat the ball forward. With it being the defensive team they couldn't bat it in that direction. The offensive team likewise could not have batted it forward from their side of the field."
It was the second week in a row in which a relatively obscure penalty was called in a Patriots game. Against, the New York Jets, Patriots defensive linemen Chris Jones was flagged for "pushing" a teammate on a field goal attempt in overtime. The Jets were able to re-kick, with Nick Folk nailing the easier try to win the game, 30-27.