Early in the third quarter of Sunday’s Patriots-Cardinals game, Gunner Olszewski reeled in a punt, zigzagged his way through the Arizona defense, and accelerated deep into Arizona territory.
He had only one man to beat in Cardinals linebacker Ezekiel Turner, but Turner was gaining ground and was close to catching him. Patriots rookie Anfernee Jennings unleashed an overpowering hit on Turner and sent him flying to the ground. Olszewski waltzed into the end zone – for what would have been an 82-yard touchdown return – but Jennings was called for an illegal blindside block.
The Patriots ended up getting the ball at Arizona’s 39-yard-line and settling for a field goal to make it 10-10 with 7:46 left in the quarter. Afterward, reporters, announcers, and fans had varying reactions to the call.
Somehow in the NFL rule book this is an illegal blindside block and a 15-yard penalty.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 29, 2020
Referee Bill Vinovich said after the game that there were actually three flags thrown on the play and that it was a “block back towards his own end line, with forceable contact.”
When ESPN’s Mike Reiss asked him what officials are looking for from a player to stay within the rules on a play like that, Vinovich provided a concise answer.
“He would have to shield him or use his hands,” he said.
The Boston Globe‘s Ben Volin noted that a blindside block “is a foul if a player initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.”
By that definition, Volin said, the play meets the criteria.
Rule 12.7 on illegal blindside block. Jennings' hit could go either way and I don't disagree with the officials calling it pic.twitter.com/OsAMc0T5t6
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) November 29, 2020
FOX broadcaster Daryl Johnston said he disagrees with the call because Jennings wasn’t moving back toward his end zone. He arrived at the point of contact, paused, and went shoulder-to-shoulder, Johnston said, rather than toward the head.
“It’s a huge, game-changing play,” Johnston said. “I thought that Anfernee Jennings really did a lot right.”
NFL rules expert Dean Blandino said he doesn’t love the call, but he pointed out that referees are asking players to shield off the opponent, rather than lower their shoulder.
“I think the league is going to support this as a blindside block,” Blandino said on the broadcast.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick immediately took umbrage with the call, yelling at an official – with some profanity – that Turner was about to make the tackle. He then showed referees photos of the hit at the timeout, but they didn’t budge.
Belichick didn’t say much about the play after the game, but he did note that the official simply told him it was a blindside block.
From the lip-reading department…
Bill Belichick to official on the Anfernee Jennings penalty for a block on the punt return: "He's about to make the [expletive] tackle!"
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) November 29, 2020
WCVB-TV reporter Christopher Gasper pointed out that the gamebook officially called it an “illegal crackback.” If Jennings had simply set a screen, the referees would have let it go, but he threw a block while facing his own goal line or blocking back toward it. He called it “a safety rule.”
For the record, the NFL gamebook for this game doesn't call the penalty a blindside block. It says illegal crackback block as the penalty, which is more in line with blocking back towards your own goal line. Hence, the term cracking back. If he just sets a screen they let it go.
— Christopher Gasper (@cgasper) November 29, 2020
NESN’s Doug Kyed called the rule “dumb” but said the ruling wasn’t wrong.
“Tough flag,” Kyed wrote. “It’s the correct call, but you can debate whether it should be.”
Blindside block by Anfernee Jennings negates Gunner Olszewski's touchdown return. Still gives the Patriots good field position. Gunner probably would have scored without the block. Tough flag. It's the correct call, but you can debate whether it should be.
— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) November 29, 2020
NFL reporter Albert Breer agreed, noting that the rule can be argued, but the call should not be.
So the penalty against Anfernee Jennings—argue with the rule, not the call—takes 4 points off the board for the Patriots.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 29, 2020
The Boston Globe‘s Jim McBride said there was “nothing blindside about it.”
Olszewski with a punt return spark. Jennings penalized for a block that special teamers dream about. Nothing blindside about it. #Patriots
— Jim McBride (@globejimmcbride) November 29, 2020
MassLive.com’s Chris Mason also didn’t approve.
“This is football,” he tweeted. “People get hit.”
Honestly, what is Anfernee Jennings supposed to do there? Just let the defender make the tackle?
This is football. People get hit.
— Chris Mason (@ByChrisMason) November 29, 2020
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.Turn on notifications
Great, you’re signed up!
This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com