I’m fairly certain this is quite common, but worth noting nonetheless. Right before Nick Folk booted a potential 58-yard winning field goal for the Jets last night, an official moved a Patriots player away from the long snapper. In the NFL, you must be lined up to the right or left of the snapper on a special teams play (technically outside the shoulder pads). Otherwise, you can be flagged for illegal formation—a 5-yard penalty.
We’ve slowed it down for you here.
Of course if you watched the game you know the kick was blocked and the Pats went on to win 27-25. Now everyone’s putting on their tinfoil hat, going WTC Building 7 on us.
But at least that was an honest mistake. What happened Thursday night seemed to be active intervention on the part of an official to prevent what, by rule, should have been a penalty. Had Hightower stayed where he was, inside the shoulder pads of Purdum, Rule 9-1-3(a) calls for a five-yard penalty for illegal formation: “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.”
But the official intervened instead, and immediately after Hightower got nudged, he moved outside Purdum’s shoulder pads, where he was lined up legally. Again: Why?
A five-yard penalty would have given Folk a shot at a field goal attempt from 53 yards
Now, to be fair, I’ve seen officials do this dozens of times. Usually a tap to a lineman telling him to move over a little. Before the rule was instituted a player could just slam the center’s head into the ground, basically run them over. So the rule itself makes sense.
Why a ref did it on a game-winning field goal? Probably the same reason they did it in the first, second or third quarter. So yes, in the end, this is much ado about nothing.