Nothing has been more controversial this NFL season than the roughing the passer rule. Defensive players especially have been critical of how the league protects quarterbacks, sometimes at the expense of defenders.
The Patriots got a much-needed touchdown early in the fourth quarter when Tom Brady ran in from 4 yards. The score seemed like an inevitability at the end of a seven-play, 75-yard drive, but the play ended up being a confusing one because it looked like Breeland Speaks had an easy sack.
But rather than bring down Brady, Speaks let the quarterback go. After the game, he told reporters he did so to avoid a penalty.
#Chiefs LB Breeland Speaks said he believed Tom Brady had already thrown the ball on his TD run and was fearful of the new rules protecting the passer. “it was definitely on my mind. It sucks.” Will he alter his approach going forward? “Yes. I gotta finish the play next time.”— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) October 15, 2018
Breeland Speaks said he thought the ball was out on Tom Brady's touchdown run, and that a penalty was on his mind in letting up. "Especially in New England. We're in New England. Tom's going to get the call."— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) October 15, 2018
And the video supports his claim:
The Patriots went up, 37-33, and after a wild fourth quarter, they won on a last-second field goal.
Ultimately though, the play may not have mattered much. There was a defensive holding penalty on the Chiefs’ defense that would’ve negated a sack and given the Patriots a first-and-goal situation on the two-yard line. A touchdown was likely going to happen either way, but the NFL’s roughing the passer rules have been difficult for defenders to follow and appeared to gift wrap Brady with a touchdown run.
This is just the latest example of the consequences of the NFL’s new rule, which has made headlines every week this season. Clay Matthews was an early victim of its confusion. Mike Tomlin was angry about it last week. Dolphins pass rusher William Hayes even said he tore his ACL trying to avoid the penalty against Derek Carr.
Speaks’ non-tackle against Brady won’t be the last we hear of it, either.