Bill Belichick is a strong-willed man who has rarely had to admit he was wrong during his nearly 40 years as an NFL coach -- in part because he rarely is. On Monday, however, Belichick was finally able to say he made a mistake, admitting that he did not properly coach his players on the rule change that prohibits a defensive player from pushing a teammate into an offensive formation, according to Tom Curran of CSN New England.
The new rule cost the Patriots in a loss to the New York Jets on Sunday when defensive tackle Chris Jones pushed his own teammate into the pile in front of the Jets' missed 56-yard game-winning field goal attempt in overtime. The penalty, a personal foul, gave the Jets another crack at a game-winner, which Nick Folk made from 42 yards out to give the Jets a 30-27 victory.
GIF of the penalty:
Immediately after the game, Belichick disagreed with the call, saying "there wasn't a push at the second level that would require a flag." Belichick is well-versed on the NFL rule book, and the use of the term "second level" implied that he was familiar with the rule, but the letter of the law (Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3) states clearly and simply that "Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation."
So where did Belichick get this "second level" stuff?
Well, while it appears that Belichick did misinterpret the rule book, his superiors in the NFL front office did as well.
According to Curran, a September article announcing the NFL's rule changes for the 2013 season stated "Team B players not at the line of scrimmage at the snap cannot push players at the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation." By that explanation, the Patriots should not have been given a penalty because Jones was lined up at the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped.
It's likely no coincidence that about two hours after the Patriots' loss, at 6:32 p.m. ET on Sunday to be precise, the language in the article was updated and the words "not at the line of scrimmage at the snap" were excised. Curran took a photo of the article as it appeared before the update.
Accompanying the article is a video of NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino explaining the rule changes. His explanation, in which he says that defensive linemen "can not push from the second level the down linemen into the offensive linemen," also corroborates Belichick's initial interpretation of the rule and explains how the term "second level" entered the coach's lexicon.
So Belichick was wrong, but so were those in charge of ensuring that players and coaches understood how the new rules should be applied. That fact is likely no consolation to Belichick, who in fairness has much more to worry about than a ticky-tack penalty on a day when the Pats went 1-for-12 on third downs and Tom Brady went 22-for-46 with a pick-six.
But if Belichick can admit he is wrong, would it be too much to ask for Blandino and Co. to say the same?