By Jason Keidel
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You’ve got to be really good or really cool or both for your name to mutate into a verb.
Jamal Adams may turn into a Pro Bowl player someday, but he got schooled by an all-world tight end on Sunday. Or more accurately, Adams was Gronked.
After watching the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 loss to New England, however, Jets fans might have a different verb in mind. Indeed, when considering the way the end of the game was called, the Jets and their fans would use a word not fit for family programming. (Rhymes with “ducked.”)
With the Jets inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line, quarterback Josh McCown zipped a ball in the flat to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who snagged the pass and then carried a few defenders toward the end zone, landing on the pylon for an apparent touchdown. As with all scores, the play was reviewed for authenticity — a formality that should have yielded no words from the refs, just two raised arms to signal the score.
Yet the refs returned a verdict filled with gibberish, football legalese and other words not fit for family consumption. They asserted that Seferian-Jenkins did not control the ball long enough to consider it a score. But it wasn’t even an incompletion. The zebras said the Jets’ tight end caught it, possessed it, then fumbled it out of the end zone, which not only killed the play and the drive, but also gave the Pats the ball.
In 7½ years and over 1,500 articles for CBS, I’ve never blamed a game on the refs, nor have I even implied a game was irrevocably altered by them. Consider this the first time. The Jets would have been down 24-21 with over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Pats got the ball still up two scores (24-14). A 12-play, 74-yard drive reduced to semantic dust.
And if you wonder whether you and yours truly were the only ones who hurled the remote toward the TV, we’re not. Even the CBS broadcast team, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts was astonished and appalled by the call, which Fouts said was perhaps the worst he’s ever seen from an NFL game. During the “Sunday Night Football” broadcast on NBC, retired Pro Bowl safety — and a former Patriot — Rodney Harrison branded it a “garbage” call.
The Jets have it rough enough without having to play the Pats and the refs. For a team many of us predicted would struggle to win two games, the Jets have played with great heart, having entered Sunday on a three-game winning streak and owning a slice of first place in the AFC East. And for the first quarter, at least, it felt like the faerie dust was still sprinkled all over Gang Green when they dashed out to a 14-0 lead.
It felt like several games were squeezed into one. After the Jets jumped on the Patriots, New England scored three unanswered touchdowns, including two to Gronkowski. After a field goal made the count 24-14, the infamous call slammed down on the Jets like a big, bleak fist.
You can’t assume outcomes, but you can say with certainty that the entire approach to the game changed with that call. Had the officials called it incomplete, the Jets still would have had the ball inside the 10. But the refs got this call wrong on every level, literally ripping the ball, the drive and perhaps the game from the Jets. And remember the initial call was a touchdown, which supposedly means there had to be irrefutable proof to the contrary.
For his part, Seferian-Jenkins cruised the high road, taking responsibility for the play, with bromides about ball security, which is laudable. But it’s not his fault, nor his fumble.
The NFL’s minions say the refs nailed the letter-of-the-law perspective. Whatever that means. We heard the same in another Patriots game — with the tuck rule. Perhaps the Pats would’ve won this game no matter how it was called. But let the league’s pre-eminent franchise earn its wins, grab the game, not have it gifted to it.
It begs the the simplest yet most crucial question. If the rule doesn’t make sense, then why have it? Even with the tuck rule, the lords of NFL laws conceded that they couldn’t agree on what completes a QB’s throwing motion versus tucking it back into possession. Just watch the NFL Network’s “Timeline” documentary on the controversial AFC title game 16 years ago and you’ll see all the ambiguity surrounding such plays, which too often find themselves framing a Patriots game. Today’s head-scratching rule addresses possession. It famously cost Calvin Johnson a touchdown, Dez Bryant a playoff-winning play and some mutation of that rule cost the Jets an obvious fourth-quarter score.
No one is saying the Jets are better than the Patriots. But at the essence of any team sport is that the athletes, not the officials, determine the winner and loser. And while games, plays and players can be controversial, a rule should never be.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel