Did referee help New England Patriots avoid penalty on blocked field goal?

Shutdown Corner

The ending of the New York Jets' loss to the New England Patriots on Thursday night was rich with irony and intrigue.

The Jets' game-winning 58-yard field-goal attempt was blocked in the waning moments by a player, the Patriots' Chris Jones, who was penalized in a similar situation last year against the Jets. In 2013, the rookie defensive tackle was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for pushing a teammate over the Jets' long snapper on Nick Folk's 56-yard try.

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After the penalty following a missed kick, Folk made his second try from 41 yards, and the Jets beat the Patriots in overtime. The rule was put in place for safety's sake, to protect the neck and head of the long snapper, who can be vulnerable to a powerful rush in a compromising position. 

Now back to Thursday night.

Jones' clean and legal block was a huge save and act of redemption for a hard-working, little-recognized player who quietly has become a key cog for the Patriots, who are shorthanded at defensive tackle. The block came on his 62nd snap of the night, 50 of them coming on defense as the Jets dominated time of possession.

"After what happened last year, I thought it was fitting that he made that play," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, per ESPN Boston. "That was awesome." 

But were the Patriots aided by the referees just prior to the kick?

Dom Cosentino of NJ.com pointed out that Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower was lined up over Jets long snapper Tanner Purdum prior to Folk's 58-yard attempt, and the referee appears to tap Hightower to let him know that he was in an illegal position.

Here's the rule:

"When Team A presents a punt, field-goal, or Try Kick formation, a Team B player, who is within one yard of the line of scrimmage, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads at the snap."

Had Hightower not (been) moved, it could have been whistled for a five-yard penalty (although he did appear to be farther than a yard from the line of scrimmage to our eyes), which might have made Folk's attempt a little more makeable from 53 yards. Did the ref do the Patriots a solid and help them avoid a crucial penalty on the game's final play?

No.

This is a more common thing than you'd think. Officials are not in the business of helping players get out of a penalized position — other than, say, letting a wide receiver know if he's offsides when they ask — but they are in the business to help protect the safety of the game as best they can.

That's really what happened here. Although Hightower was off the line, he did bubble the long snapper, and the referee's judgment was that Hightower could have compromised Purdum's healthy had he rushed from his head-up position.

Here's an example of another referee on another crew doing the same thing in the Carolina Panthers-Cincinnati Bengals game from last Sunday:

Here's another similar example, from the Arizona Cardinals-Denver Broncos game in Week 5:

The NFL also has chimed in on the matter:

Another chapter in the Jets-Patriots long-running feud? Hardly.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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