Will Montgomery was lined up for a field goal last year in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals and looked up to see a defender on either shoulder — plus two more behind them, ready to shove their teammates into Montgomery.
It was four against one, and the Washington Redskins offensive lineman didn’t think that was very fair or safe.
"I actually pulled my hamstring because it root-hogged my legs out from underneath me. I did the splits, and I usually can’t do the splits," Montgomery told FOX Sports by phone Sunday evening. "I’m like, ‘Man, this is BS.’ That was the genesis of the rule change."
As ProFootballTalk.com reported Sunday, the rule change was, in large part, Montgomery’s idea. The change — that no player could push one of his teammates into a blocker on a place kick from scrimmage — was one of several made this offseason. It didn’t get nearly as much attention as the "crown of the helmet" rule or the elimination of the "tuck rule."
Well, at least not until Sunday, when it was called for the first time at a crucial moment for the New England Patriots — in overtime as New York Jets kicker Nick Folk yanked a 56-yard field-goal attempt wide left. The Pats’ Chris Jones pushed Will Svitek into Jets lineman Damon Harrison, which is a violation of the new rule. Instead of first-and-10 for the Patriots from their own 46, it was first down from the New England 23 for the Jets. And four plays later, it was a Jets victory on a 42-yard field goal by Folk.
Bill Belichick indicated after the game he thought the rule applied only to players on the "second level" (i.e., linebackers) at the snap. A confused Belichick didn’t like the call. Neither did plenty of other Patriots players, staffers and fans.
But Montgomery did. And he likes the rule change he helped enact.
"They say just get low pads and low pad wins, but you get low pads and then guys fall on top of you," Montgomery said. "You feel like bones are gonna break or you’re going to pull things and I did pull my hamstring. So you figure, in this whole new era of player safety, a four-on-one is not safe in the NFL."
The way Jones went right for Svitek and latched on to him indicated it wasn’t an accident and that he was carrying out an assignment. Whether he, Belichick or the coaching staff knew it was a violation of the new rule might never be known (Jones said afterward he didn’t know it was illegal).
However, Montgomery said the Patriots weren’t the only ones trying the move. He’s seen multiple instances on film of a player lining up a few feet off the line and then sliding sideways to give a nudge to another player. Montgomery was surprised there had been no penalties called in the first six weeks of the season.
FOX Sports’ Mike Pereira reported Sunday the officials had been shown instances that should have been called on their weekly videos.
This time, the refs were ready. And they called it.
It’s quite the change from the way things used to be for field-goal blockers. Even the snapper, whose head was down while rushers were running into him, used to take a beating.
Former snapper Ryan Kuehl, a player rep to the NFL Players Association during his 13-year career with the Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, recalls the days when long snappers would face three-man wedges over top of them with three pushers behind them. Kuehl said teams even coached their players to lift the snapper off the ground to create a better push, or at least influence a bad snap.
In 2006, Kuehl and other snappers around the league began to enjoy the breathing room that came with a rule change prohibiting defenders from lining up anywhere over the snapper.
Still, other players along the line received no special protection.
"You would hold on for dear life, and I’m surprised when I was doing it more people didn’t get hurt," said Kuehl, who did some work with the NFLPA after his retirement in 2007 and is now a senior director of sports marketing for Under Armour. "But it’s a violent sport. That’s part of the deal. I don’t think you can legislate injuries.
"Is it better from a safety perspective? Absolutely. But does it make the kick more automatic? Probably. Unless the kicker kicks it low, it’s hard to get a block with no push."
But like many rule changes of late, it’s about safety over entertainment. And while the Patriots aren’t happy with the change right now, Montgomery is.
"When I’m on field-goal protection and there are only two guys on me instead of four guys or a linebacker pushing," Montgomery said, "it definitely makes me proud of that rule change."
Bengals in the clutch
Last year, after getting blown out in the opener, the Bengals lost games by 4, 10, 7, 8, 1 and 6 points. This year, they’ve won games by 10, 4, 7, 3 and 3 points.
Those past two victories, including one over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, have been on field goals by Mike Nugent, who hit a 43-yarder in overtime to beat the Buffalo Bills last week and this week nailed a 54-yard kick at the end of regulation.
Safe to say, Nugent is enjoying Montgomery’s little rule change.
"I kind of told myself the whole game, every single ball I hit should be good from a certain distance," Nugent told FOX Sports by phone after the Bengals returned to Cincinnati. "In a dome, an extra point should go in from 55, so I told myself just hit a regular ball. Don’t change anything because of the situation in a game. Just keep everything exactly the same. I kept my head down and ended up seeing it go through."
That kick, and the victory it gave Cincy, inspired confidence in a team that was showing swagger even after its first victory this season, when wide receiver A.J. Green told me in our interview for FOX Sports 1 following the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers he thinks the Bengals are the "team to beat."
Maybe they’re not quite there, but picking up hard-fought victories gets a team closer and builds that confidence.
"Oh definitely, I do think we think that going into games but when you come out of games like that . . . it is so tough to win on the road these days," Nugent said. "It’s not just, ‘Hey, good job, we won.’ It’s like, ‘We just won on the road in a tough environment.’ Everywhere you play is a tough place to play if you’re not the home team. Yeah, I think it really gives you a nice boost when you have a win like that. Everyone kind of does a great job sticking together. The captains really stepped up.
"I like what Andy (Dalton) is doing. He’s really becoming a leader on this team even though he’s still a young guy. He’s a guy that commands a lot out of the guys on that offense, and everyone listens to him."
• From Sam Bradford’s torn ACL, to Jay Cutler hobbling off the field, to Reggie Wayne’s knee injury, to Brian Cushing’s broken leg, to Jermichael Finley leaving Lambeau Field in an ambulance, to . . . that’s enough, I can’t even go through the rest of them. You saw the injuries, and we’ll all spend the next two days going through the fallout from them. And there’s really not much more to say than it was an absolutely awful day in the NFL with regard to the number of very good football players who left the field with scary (or even just scary-looking) injuries. For as thrilling as the last-second victories by the Bengals, Steelers and Jets were, the sight of those players getting hurt lessened the enjoyment of the entire day.
• Another guy who left with an injury was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who just didn’t look very good during the 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, even before he took a shot to the head that caused a concussion. FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer reported on Sunday that Foles’ groin injury was so bad last week leading up to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that the team was getting ready to force Michael Vick into action in case Foles wasn’t ready. Look for more clarity on Foles’ situation the next couple of days because he’s dealing with a few issues. Early indications are he won’t be ready to go on Sunday against the New York Giants.
• What was going on in Broncos defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson’s head on Sunday night? He had three personal-foul penalties for a total of 45 yards. The one on the extra point following the Indianapolis Colts’ touchdown to make it 33-14 late in the third quarter was disgusting. Replays showed he took a swipe at the knee of Colts center Samson Satele, who missed the rest of the game and was irate for good reason. And then, Vickerson inexplicably bumped QB Andrew Luck well after he released a pass as the Broncos were trying to get the ball back in the fourth quarter. It was barely a hit, and Luck might’ve embellished, but Vickerson deserved the penalty — if only for his brain lock on the play.
• The game Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown had on Sunday probably won’t get the attention it deserves because the Bears lost and McCown took a sack to end the comeback attempt. That said, he was 14 for 20 for 204 yards and a touchdown after replacing the injured Cutler. Assuming Cutler is out for at least a few weeks (and sources say that’s a safe assumption), McCown is about to get the best opportunity of his 11-year career. Yeah, 11 years. He’s been around that long. And for a guy who has played for the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers and has only been on one playoff team (the one-and-done 2008 Panthers), piloting the 4-3 Bears in a wide-open NFC is surely a welcome opportunity.
• In addition to Nugent, let’s give another kicker some love for his work on Sunday. Dan Carpenter got booed for some unknown reason by Miami Dolphins fans on Sunday. Well, for some reason other than the fact that the Dolphins cut him this summer. Hey, it happens. Carpenter joined the Arizona Cardinals for a whopping four days before joining the Buffalo Bills after Dustin Hopkins got hurt in practice before Week 1. Shortly before signing with Arizona, Carpenter was dealing with the stress of his wife being overdue with the couple’s first child. Anyway, back to Sunday: Carpenter hit three field goals, including the 31-yard game-winner, and slowed down Dolphins returner Marcus Thigpen just enough to prevent a touchdown on the ensuing kick return. It was a return that shouldn’t have happened because Carpenter didn’t get enough leg on the ball, but at least he prevented the TD.
"I probably lost a couple years of my life out there on that play," Bills coach Doug Marrone said.
Hey, those years netted a win, and the job Marrone is doing to keep the 3-4 Bills competitive can’t be overstated.
Ten even quicker takes
• Brandon Jacobs: Don’t expect the Giants’ running back to suit up Monday night vs. the Vikings. He’s listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, but word is he’s more doubtful. The 0-6 Giants will need rookie Michael Cox and newly-signed veteran Peyton Hillis to come up big.
• Erik Walden: Between the Peyton Manning drama, the Wayne injury and everything else involved with Broncos-Colts, don’t forget about the guy who made two huge plays late — one to force an interception on a hit of Manning and another to force a fumble a few minutes later. (Fitting a guy wearing Dwight Freeney’s No. 93 made the plays against Manning, huh?)
• Andy Reid: The big guy is having a blast. Did you catch him giving official Don Carey a playful jab to the gut during a replay review early in the fourth quarter? A 7-0 record would make any coach smile, but for all he’s been through in recent years, it’s good to see Reid having fun.
• Jake Locker: Kudos to the Titans’ quarterback for hustling back onto the field. With every limp Sunday, it was evident he wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent.
• Rex Ryan: So fired. . . . Oh wait, sorry, I was looking at others’ notes from August.
• San Diego Chargers: They broke the loss-win pattern they’d established through their first six games and avoided a trap in Jacksonville.
• London: We’re about to find out just how much they really appreciate the NFL with this Jaguars-49ers matchup they’re about to be subjected to.
• Colin Kaepernick’s legs: Raise your hand if you had him picking up his first rushing touchdown in Week 7. . . . Liars.
• Kaepernick’s arm: He has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in five of his seven games. Eh, whatever. All seems fine for San Francisco on offense.
• Steven Jackson: The Atlanta Falcons signed him to add punch to their running game. With 18 — eighteen! — rushing yards on Sunday, they’re now 30th in the NFL, with 68.3 yards on the ground per game. They’re not dead but need Jackson back in the lineup quickly.