At the end of the second quarter, the Redskins were in a position to go into halftime with an amazing 20-17 lead. Standing between them was Tom Brady in the 2-minute offense.
Thanks to a 50-yard catch and run by Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots were in long field goal range with about a minute to go. Two plays later on a second-and-four play, Tom Brady scrambled up the middle for three yards before tucking into a slide. Here’s the play as it happened:
After the play, Redskins linebacker London Fletcher was understandably irate, as the film shows that he didn’t go forearm to the head, as the referee described. The commentators certainly agreed with Fletcher: it wasn’t really an issue of interpretation on whether the hit was late or not, it really didn’t happen.
After the game, Fletcher was still insistent that the hit was clean.
“You all watched the game,” he said definitively. “You saw it. They make calls. We just kind of have to live with it, I guess.”
He had the support of his head coach, who also wasn’t a fan of the ruling.
“Well at least in my opinion I thought it was horrible. That’s what I saw on the replay,” said head coach Mike Shanahan. “What I saw on the replay I thought it was a bad call. I’d have to see it again to know for sure but my first look at it … I talked to them and I asked who called it because I didn’t agree with him.”
The interesting part is that this morning, the man that took the hit was also in agreement with the Redskins’ angst (via Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston):
“I thought it was a really clean play by him. I think we’re pretty fortunate we got the call,” Brady said.
With any number of possibilities in play, there’s no way of knowing that would have or could have happened if they penalty hadn’t been called.
But based strictly on the outcome of the play, the Patriots would be looking at a third-and-one at the 23-yard line with 1:07 left and the clock rolling. Given where they were on the field, if they hadn’t gained another yard, they would be looking at about a 40-yard field goal (Gostkowski has 75 percent accuracy this season) instead of a 27-yarder (Gostkowski has 91 percent accuracy).
In an alternate universe, would they pick up the first down? Would they miss the long field goal? Would they turn the ball over?
We’ll never know, because the officials rules the play as unnecessary roughness and gave the Patriots a first down at the Redskins 10-yard line. Fletcher would regain his composure and stuff Kevin Faulk for no gain on the next play.
The Redskins defense would rise up and force a field goal in the waning seconds of the half. Frustrations aside, they did their job.