NFL deserves some slack on ‘pushing’ penalty

Many Patriots fans were understandably disappointed when officials flagged defensive tackle Chris Jones for pushing teammate Will Svitek into the New York Jets’ offensive formation during the Jets’ attempt at a game-winning field goal on Sunday. It was the first time such a penalty had been called, and it wasn’t obvious from replays that Jones had done anything worthy of a personal foul. But the National Football League, which is trying to crack down on potentially dangerous hits, deserves a little slack here.

NFL rules cover such obviously dangerous infractions such as helmet-to-helmet hits. But sometimes the most serious injuries are suffered in the tangle and mangle at the line of scrimmage. Pushing a teammate into another player can essentially double the force of a hit: Washington center Will Montgomery, who pushed for the rule with the NFL Players Association, said in one game last year, two defensive players lined up over him and were pushed into him by two other players. He slipped, fell into a split, and pulled a hamstring. “It’s literally impossible to hold up that much force,” he told reporters.

Nothing that dramatic happened in the Patriots’ game, and fans are justified in feeling unlucky that the first-ever pushing penalty gave the Jets an extra 15 yards in which to make the game-winning field goal. But the NFL is trying to cut down on forceful collisions as growing evidence shows such hits can lead to brain damage. Fans will have to be patient until players fully understand the rules, and the refs can judge when to throw a flag.