Referee explains penalty that negated Patriots' punt return TD vs. Cardinals

Darren Hartwell
·2 min read

Ref's explanation for punt return penalty won't please Pats fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The optics admittedly didn't look great.

Gunner Olszewski was on his way to an 82-yard punt return touchdown in the third quarter of the New England Patriots' game against the Cardinals when Anfernee Jennings leveled Arizona defender Ezekiel Turner with a massive block.

Flags flew immediately, and Jennings was assessed a 15-yard penalty for an illegal blindside block that negated Olszewski's score.

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But a slow-motion replay revealed that Jennings was in Turner's line of sight and squared himself to the defender before making the block.

The penalty was controversial enough for head official Bill Vinovich to address the call in a pool report with ESPN's Mike Reiss after the Patriots' 20-17 win.

"There were actually three flags thrown on that play," Vinovich told Reiss. "It was a block back towards (Jennings') own end line, with forcible contact."

The NFL expanded its definition of an illegal blindside block in 2019 to include any hit in which the defender is "moving toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder."

So, while Jennings didn't "blindside" Turner, this was technically a "blindside block" by strict definition.

"He would either have to shield him or use his hands," Vinovich said when asked what a legal block on that play would have looked like.

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The Patriots had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown as a result of the penalty and likely would have seethed over this call had they not pulled out the victory.

Head coach Bill Belichick didn't seem thrilled about the penalty, either, but managed to bite his tongue.

"Disappointing that the punt return got called back, but we’ll just have to pull off that a little bit, I guess," Belichick told reporters after the game.