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, but a bigger question remained: Was there a problem with the call?
FOX broadcaster Daryl Johnston said he disagreed 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 didn’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.
According to the NFL rulebook, 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.”
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