FOXBOROUGH — A questionable call wiped out a touchdown for Gunner Olszewski on a punt return early in the third quarter of Sunday’s Patriots-Cardinals game.
Olszewski, a wide receiver whose primary role has come on special teams as a returner, managed to zig-zag his way 82 yards to the end zone only for officials to whistle rookie linebacker Anfernee Jennings for an illegal blindside block.
The flag nullified Olszewski’s long return. Instead, the Patriots began their drive at Arizona’s 39-yard line and ultimately settled for a field goal. Coach Bill Belichick seemed displeased with the officiating, arguing with referees for an extended period of time following the return.
“Disappointed that the punt return got called back,” he said after his team’s 20-17 win.
As Olszewski charged his way through Cardinals territory, linebacker Ezekiel Turner, his last man to beat, was gaining ground. Right as Turner could have potentially made the tackle, Jennings delivered a powerful hit, appearing to set Olszewski free. But referee Bill Vinovich confirmed after the game, via pool report, that the move was illegal.
“It was a block back towards his own end line, with forceable contact,” Vinovich said.
So, what could Jennings have done differently?
“He would either have to shield him or use his hands,” Vinovich said.
Vinovich’s explanation aligns with the NFL’s rulebook: “It 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.”
- Shaughnessy: Special teams, short fields, turnovers, a knucklehead penalty? The Four Horsemen of Bill Belichick’s two-decade reign
- Nick Folk’s field goal seals it after Patriots do just enough to beat Cardinals
- Patriots had Cam Newton’s back after he was leveled late in the game, and he appreciated it
- James White scores first touchdowns of season vs. Cardinals as he fills in for injured Rex Burkhead
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.