Behind the Patriots’ ‘Push Rule’ Conspiracy Theory

Some people believe the NFL changed the rules to prevent a Patriots win. Where'd they get that idea?

Certain corners of the internet are peddling a theory that the NFL changed a rule after a call that allowed the Jets to beat the Patriots Sunday so that the flag would appear to have been correctly thrown. “PushRuleGate,” they’re calling it. As Barstool Sports whines:

They cost a championship contender a game and worse, covered it up.  Shit like this brought a US president down, God knows an NFL commissioner can’t be allowed to get away with this.

The issue centers on the Jets’ 56-yard field goal attempt Sunday, which went wide, and would have given the Patriots possession with good field position. But defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged and the Patriots received a 15-yard penalty for violating the brand new Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3, which says, “players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.” The call ended up costing them the game when the Jets successfully hit a field goal attempt a few plays later.

Deadspin reports that at the time of the call, the first Google result when people searched for the new rule was an story from Sept. 3, written before the rule was officially implemented. That story read [emphasis added]:

Team B players not on the line of scrimmage at the snap cannot push players on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.

It’s a good bet that Bellichick didn’t quite know the rule himself, went to look it up, and found this article, because his complaint after the game—”You can’t push on the second level. I didn’t think we did that”—reflects the language there.

But, crucially, edited their story Sunday evening to remove any mention of a “second level.” From this, a million conspiracy theorists were given fuel. CSNNE’s Tom Curran tweeted out that the story had been changed, and Barstool Sports picked it up, alleging that there was a coverup, that a rule had been altered to fit the call. Actually it had been altered after the article was published, but before its final version was entered into the rulebook. added an editor’s note to clarify that, “The rule proposal was amended before it was passed to ban pushing of any ‘Team B’ teammate at the line of scrimmage.”

That seems like a more plausible explanation than Roger Goodell having some Nixonian need to ineptly stack the deck against the Patriots. And indeed, in the game’s aftermath, the Patriots themselves are not running with this “PushCallGate” line of attack. Chris Jones himself has taken responsibility for violating the rule. The rest of the team has argued that there were several opportunities for them to change the outcome of the game.

Barstool isn’t backing down, but they’re finding other things to complain about, too, just in case you don’t buy the idea that Roger Goodell faked the moon landing. For instance, we can focus on the fact that it was the first time the rule was ever invoked, and search tape for instances when officials didn’t call it on the Jets. (Barstool’s already on it.) Or just generally kvetch about the obnoxious schadenfreude that the rest of the country feels watching us have a win so narrowly taken from us. No conspiracy theories necessary!