After the Falcons went up 13-0 on the Patriots in Super Bowl 51, it looked like New England finally had limited the damage, ever so slightly. On the Falcons’ point-after attempt, Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin timed his rush well, jumped over the Falcons’ blockers, and snuffed out Matt Bryant’s kick before it could happen.
But the play didn’t count. Officials on the field flagged New England for an illegal formation. The ruling was that the Patriots had a player lined up directly over the Falcons’ long snapper, Josh Harris. Defenders aren’t allowed to line up immediately on the head of the center, and if they do, it’s a procedure penalty.
This was a bad call. It’s extremely clear that nobody in a white jersey is lined up anywhere near head-on with the snapper, before or after the snap.
Had McClellin landed on top of a Falcon, he’d have been guilty of leaping, and that would’ve been a legitimate (unsportsmanlike conduct) foul. But he didn’t. His leap was a well-executed sequel to one he executed earlier this season, and Atlanta should’ve been stuck on 13 points. The Falcons got to re-kick, though, and Bryant knocked that attempt through.
If this thing comes down to a point, we’ll hear about this play forever. And if not, it’s still an unfortunate officiating error on the sport’s grandest stage.