It took seven weeks, but tight end Rob Gronkowski finally made his 2013 debut. And other than the bulky black brace on his left forearm, he performed just like it was 2012. But his eight-catch, 114-yard performance wasn't enough against the upstart Jets, who beat the Patriots in overtime, 30-27.
A week ago against the Saints, quarterback Tom Brady led a last-minute, game-winning drive, and it looked like he would again get that opportunity after Jets kicker Nick Folk pulled a 56-yard field goal with 5:07 left in the extra period. Except a little-known rule resulted in a personal foul penalty on Patriots rookie Chris Jones, the Jets' drive was extended, and a few plays later, Folk redeemed himself.
Jones' crime wasn't your typical personal-foul penalty; there was no late hit, or stupid after-the-whistle shoving match. Nope, Jones was guilty of -- pushing his own teammates into the Jets' line as Folk attempted the kick. And up till Feb. 2013, that was a perfectly legal thing to do. In the offseason, the rule was changed and starting seven weeks ago it was not only a penalty, it was of the 15-yard variety.
Officially, Rule 126.96.36.199 states that "Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."
"Team B" is the team defending the kick.
You can view Jones' infraction here and judge for yourself. By the letter of the rule, Jones should have been flagged, news that doesn't make the loss any easier for the Pats, starting with coach Bill Belichick.
"We weren't on the second level when we pushed him, no," Belichick said after the game. "You can't push from the second level. I didn't think we did that."
But NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino said the officials interpreted the rule correctly.
"When you look at the play, you can see New England No. 94 pushing New England No. 74 into the (offensive) formation," he said, via NFL.com. "That's a violation of the rule, it was put in for player safety, and it is the correct call."
Lost in the last-second mayhem is that the Patriots' offense continues to struggle, and it starts with Brady. He's been uncharacteristically inconsistent this season and with the defense now without Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, there is virtually no margin for error. Put another way: What looked like a sure path to a division title and the playoffs a week ago has suddenly turned into an interesting race for the AFC East title.
Jets coach Rex Ryan and his team, much like a rash, will not go away.