Aaron Rodgers was on pre-game saying the Giants were faking injuries to get free timeouts to slow the Packer offense down, remember?
Well, what about last night?
The Giants shed some light on an exploitable loophole in the NFL rulebook and this needs to be addressed IMMEDIATELY or every team is going to abuse it as more coaches learn about it.
Basically : When the game is coming down to the wire, and time becomes the most important factor... intentionally throw out 12+ men on the field for your defense. Why?
1) You stop any chance of a WR being open. No big play happens.
2) If you get flagged for a penalty, it's only 5 yards but the time on the clock from the penalty play is gone forever.
3) You might get away with it if the refs don't notice.
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They might even have exploited a funny little loophole in the rule book. With 17 seconds left, Tom Brady took a snap and desperately searched around for an open receiver. He eventually launched a pass to a well-covered Aaron Hernandez that fell incomplete, but not before eight seconds had passed and a flag had fallen to the ground. The penalty? The Giants had 12 men on the field, a five-yarder that would allow the Patriots to replay the down from their own 49-yard line, but not reclaim the time on the clock.
In a situation where a team needs a touchdown with 20 seconds or so left in the game, time can be far more important than yards. Trading eight seconds for five yards there is a decision the defense will take every time, and even if the Patriots had the ability to get off a free play, the Giants had 12 men on the field and were more likely to stop such a play from succeeding. It's brilliant. It's illegal. But was it on purpose?
Normally, we wouldn't accuse a coach of employing such a strategy. Tom Coughlin certainly doesn't have a reputation for stretching the rules. But fellow Grantland contributor Chris Brown pointed out that there's a precedent for such behavior: Buddy Ryan's "Polish Defense" tactic, a move he employed near the goal line. Take it away, playbook:
THREE EXTRA LINEBACKERS GO INTO THE GAME.
Situation: The opponent is inside the 5 yard line going in to score. There is less than 15 seconds left. We want to stop their offense from scoring and in the process, we want to run the clock down to where they have enough time for just one play. So, we will stop them, get penalized half the distance to the goal, but leave them with enough time to run one play. We will then go back to our regular goal line defense and stop them to win the game.
Chris' post also notes that Ryan later placed 14 men onto the field for a last-minute punt while considering the same sort of strategy, and actually got away with it when the referees failed to recognize the extra men and didn't throw a flag.
It's easy to see how this might work for the Giants. By taking eight seconds off the clock, they force the Patriots into a situation where they essentially will have to throw a Hail Mary on the next play (or, in the worst case, two plays later). In fact, just as Ryan lamented not having 15 men on the field for the punt, the Giants probably should have run 13 men4 onto the field for the play, ensuring that a completion was almost certainly not forthcoming before taking their lumps.
In reality, the Giants probably just screwed up and put 12 men on the field amid all the excitement and drama of the final series. But don't be surprised if an NFL team remembers this situation next season, refers back to Ryan's mantra, and throws 14 players on the field for a key defensive snap inside 30 seconds. The NFL would be smart to close this loophole in the rules and turn the defensive 12-men penalty into a true free play, allowing the offense to either take the result of the play or the option of accepting a five-yard penalty with the time run off from the play added back onto the clock.
The NFL needs to fix this loophole immediately.