In the era of hot takes and hyperbole, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment and declare that something is the “worst.” On Thursday night, plenty of folks were quick to point out that the Saints may have gotten hit with the worst penalty of the 2021 NFL season, and… actually, they may be right on this one.
During the third quarter of New Orleans’ 27-17 loss to Dallas, Saints tight end Garrett Griffin was penalized for a blindside block while trying to protect quarterback Taysom Hill from Cowboys defensive back Jayron Kearse. Hill completed a pass to Deonte Harris for a first down, but the play was wiped out by the flag, which pushed the Saints back deep into their own territory. They punted the ball away three plays later.
So, what does the NFL consider a blindside block? From the league’s rulebook:
It is a foul if a player initiates a block when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.
Note: It is not a foul for a blindside block if the forcible contact occurs in “close-line play” prior to the ball leaving that area. The ball is not considered to have left that area if the player who takes the snap, either from a shotgun position or from under center, retreats in the pocket immediately or with a slight delay, and hands the ball to another player, or runs with the ball himself. This exception does not apply to any action other than a designed play. Any forcible contact in “close-line play” is still subject to the restrictions for crackback and peel back blocks.
Saints coach Sean Payton clearly disagreed with the interpretation of Griffin’s block, as he could be seen during the Fox broadcast screaming at anyone wearing stripes.
“That’s a terrible call,” Fox analyst Troy Aikman said. “I don’t blame Sean Payton. Just a terrible call.”
After the game, Payton told reporters that he did not receive an explanation for the penalty, seemingly dodging questions in order to avoid getting fined.
“I’m not real familiar with that type of block on that situation,” Payton said.
Unlike Payton, everyone in the NFL Twitterverse didn’t hold back. Multiple former NFL players criticized the officiating crew, including longtime offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who said the blindside block penalty was the “worst call I’ve ever seen.”
I saw this in real time and made a note that I might want to highlight this block tomorrow cuz it’s awesome.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) December 3, 2021
Glad I’m retired I feel sorry for y’all boyz
— Shawne Merriman (@shawnemerriman) December 3, 2021
Media members were similarly baffled by the call.
Of all the questionable calls all season, that may be the worst of all.
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 3, 2021
If Jayron Kearse was noticeably trying to avoid the blocker, it cannot by definition be a blindside block.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) December 3, 2021
Saints lost about a quarter of a football field on a standard block that was called “blindside”
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) December 3, 2021
Again, NFL recently re-defined “blindside” block to mean any block thrown with the blocker’s back facing the goal line the offense is heading toward. It doesn’t really mean “blindside” anymore.
Still, that was not it on the Saints there. Awful penalty call.
— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) December 3, 2021
That whole drive just went from bad to worse starting with the blindside block call
— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) December 3, 2021
Did the refs want Griffin to let Taysom get blown up by the DB on that play? Like seriously, what do refs want man.
— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) December 3, 2021
That penalty wasn’t the only reason the Saints lost — Hill threw four interceptions, including a pick-six late in the fourth quarter — but it certainly didn’t help their cause.