EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Patriots always spend one day during training camp reviewing and learning the new rules that are instituted for the upcoming NFL season.
“You talk about it and you remember it,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “You get the rule, and that’s it.”
But defensive tackle Chris Jones wasn’t in camp with the Patriots. He was with the Texans in August after being drafted by them in the sixth round out of Bowling Green in April. The Texans likely had a review and refresher course for their players, but Jones, claimed off waivers by the Patriots Sept. 11 from Tampa Bay, said he wasn’t aware of one of the league’s new rules during Sunday’s game.
“But, you know, I made a mistake, and I should be more aware,” a dejected Jones said after the Patriots’ 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets.
The Patriots thought they were in line for a dramatic victory after Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left in overtime.
But their elation was quickly muted. Jones was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — technically it should have been unnecessary roughness — for violating Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3, which was introduced this year: “players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.”
Several Patriots players still were confused about the ruling after the game.
“I’d like to see it on tape,” said Ninkovich, who lined up on the opposite side of the formation on the play.
But video replay clearly shows Jones, lined up in the “B” gap on the left side of the defensive formation, going behind and pushing Will Svitek into Jets blocker Damon Harrison in an attempt to disrupt the kick.
“The umpire’s flag went up almost instantaneously as he observed the action,” referee Jerome Boger said. “We just enforced it as he called it.”
The penalty wiped out the missed kick and gave the Jets life. Three plays later, Folk hit a much more manageable 42-yarder for the win, dropping the Patriots to 5-2 this season.
Jones sat at his locker for several minutes after the game, patiently answering questions from reporters and taking full responsibility for the penalty.
“I was confused at first, didn’t know what was going on,” said Jones, who also had two sacks Sunday. “Then I figured out what it was and I was like, ‘Oh, it was my fault.’ ”
“The mistake was mine. I put it on my shoulders. It was all my fault and nobody else’s. It slipped my mind at the time. Now I know it.”
An NFL spokesman said the new rule was instituted as a player-safety measure, and that umpire Tony Michalek made the correct call. The new rule has two parts — it also prevents teams from overloading one side of the defensive line on kicks.
The Jets, of course, had no sympathy for the Patriots.
“I was like, ‘You know what? It’s about time we got a break,’ ” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I think I heard the whole stadium saying, ‘Please be on them, please be on them.’ ”
“It’s a good new rule, and they just ended up breaking the rule,” Folk said.
The NFL stated during the preseason that the Competition Committee members found too many injuries were caused by defenders rushing through the gaps created by overload formations, and by defenders pushing each other into the opposing linemen.
Previously, NFL rules prohibited players from lining up behind each other during kick formations and pushing from behind.
Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who disagreed with Sunday’s ruling, didn’t seem to quite understand what the officials had called.
“You can’t push on the second level,” he said. “I didn’t think we did that.”
The Patriots can thank Redskins center Will Montgomery for helping institute the new rule tweak, in which it doesn’t matter where the defenders line up.
“I had a game, we played the Bengals, and I had two guys over me and two guys behind them pushing, so it was basically four-on-one,” Montgomery said in training camp. “My foot slipped, and I actually went down and did a split and pulled a hamstring. I’m like, ‘Man, this is ridiculous.’ Like, it’s literally impossible to hold up that much force. I e-mailed [NFLPA executive director] DeMaurice Smith and got the ball rolling with that.”
Sunday’s game was the first time the penalty had been called all year, in any game. Mike Pereira, the former head of officials, said the officials were correct in their interpretation of the play.
“I’m sure the league would rather the first call in history of this rule would not have been at this point in the game with these ramifications, but it is the rule,” Pereira wrote on FoxSports.com.
Jones said he didn’t put much thought into the maneuver.
“It just kind of happened,” he said. “I knew they were coming in, so I was just trying to get that extra push in the middle.”
“It was just a normal thing — try to get upfield for the block,” said Svitek, who declined further comment.
The penalty spoiled what would have been a memorable day for Jones, who has already bounced around between Houston, Tampa Bay, and New England in his six months in the league.
Jones, named the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 after compiling 12½ sacks and 19 tackles for loss, has been thrust into the starting lineup since Vince Wilfork suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury in Week 4. He had 1½ sacks in Week 5 against the Bengals, played every defensive snap in Week 6 against New Orleans, and had 10 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss Sunday against the Jets.
“For a guy like Chris that came in here late, came in here and learned the defense fast, being thrown into a position early in the season, he’s done a great job for us,” Ninkovich said. “This isn’t Chris Jones’s fault by any means. This is a team loss.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.