MetLife Stadium, the site of the game.
|Date||November 22, 2012|
|Stadium||MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey|
|TV in the United States|
|Announcers||Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya|
In front of the home crowd of 79,000 at MetLife Stadium and a primetime television audience of 20 million, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez collided with the rear end of his teammate Brandon Moore and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Patriots' Steve Gregory and returned for a touchdown. The play was the centerpiece of a disastrous sequence in the second quarter, as the Jets lost three fumbles and the Patriots scored three touchdowns—one each on offense, defense, and special teams—all in the span of 52 seconds of game time; in that quarter, the Jets held the ball for over 12 minutes (out of 15), but were outscored 35–3. The game and the so-called "butt fumble" in particular are remembered as the low point of the Jets' 2012 season. The butt fumble was ranked as the most embarrassing moment in Jets history by ESPN.
The game was the 108th meeting between the two clubs and third at MetLife Stadium. After a Week 11 victory at the St. Louis Rams, the Jets returned home with a 4–6 record, tied with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The Patriots had defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11, entering the game with a 7–3 record, leading the AFC East.
The game was the last of the day's three Thanksgiving Day games. It was broadcast on the NBC television network, kicking off at 8:20 p.m. EST. After six years of the third Thanksgiving game being exclusive to NFL Network and broadcast stations in each team's local market, it was the first broadcast of a primetime Thanksgiving game on a broadcast network in the NFL's history, and NBC expected viewership ratings to rival those of the playoffs. A 30-second advertisement during the game cost $975,000, nearly double the price for a spot on Sunday Night Football, which was the #1 regularly scheduled program on TV.
A scoreless first quarter ended with the Patriots driving to the Jets' 3-yard line. The second quarter began with a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker. The Jets answered with a drive to New England's 31-yard line, where a disastrous sequence of plays began. On a 4th down with inches to go, Jets running back Shonn Greene rushed up the middle and was tackled short of the first-down marker by Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who forced a fumble by knocking the ball out of Greene's hands. The ball was recovered by Patriots safety Steve Gregory at the Patriots' 17-yard line, for a loss of 14 yards.[a] The Patriots scored on the next play, as running back Shane Vereen ran a wheel route out of the backfield to the left, beating Jets linebacker Bart Scott in man-to-man coverage. Scott was lined up too far inside, and a screen from Welker prevented Scott from reaching Vereen. Vereen caught Brady's pass around the Patriots' 25-yard line, and Vereen sprinted down the sideline for an 83-yard touchdown.
After a touchback, the Jets' next possession began with an 11-yard completion from Sanchez to Clyde Gates. With 9:10 remaining in the second quarter, the Jets had a 1st and 10 at their own 31-yard line.
The Jets lined up in an I formation, with Sanchez under center. In the backfield were fullback Lex Hilliard and running back Shonn Greene, 41⁄2 and 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage respectively. Sanchez had called the play in the huddle: a designed handoff to the fullback. Typically in this formation, the running back receives the ball, and the fullback blocks for him. The play call would attempt to misdirect the defense, as Greene would peel away to the left and Hilliard would take a quick handoff to the right.
When Sanchez took the snap, he mistakenly turned to the left, where there was no one to receive the handoff. Trying to salvage the broken play, Sanchez scrambled forward towards the line of scrimmage. At the 32-yard line, as he tried to slide down to protect himself and the ball, Sanchez collided with right guard Brandon Moore, who was working against Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork; the collision dislodged the ball from Sanchez's right arm. As Sanchez was knocked down and Moore fell on top of him, the football bounced out to the right side of the play, near the 32-yard line, directly in front of Patriots safety Steve Gregory, who collected the ball with his fingertips and ran untouched into the Jets' end zone for a scoop-and-score touchdown.
Reactions and analysis
In the Jets' postgame press conference, Sanchez explained: "I was thinking a different play in my head. That was a mental error there. As soon as I realized there was no one to hand it to I started to run toward the line and tried to cover it up and just get down and I slid right into Brandon Moore." "I was just trying to get down. The play was over. Say 'Uncle'. Do the right thing. Get to second-and-10 and live to play another down. I'm not a big believer in luck, but that was pretty unlucky. It was really too bad." In an interview six days later, Sanchez described the play again: "It's embarrassing. You screw up the play and I'm trying to do the right thing. It's not like I'm trying to force something. I start to slide and I slide in the worst spot I possibly could—right into Brandon Moore. I guess (I was) more stunned than anything. Just like a car accident. I was like, 'Whoa. What just happened?' Then, the ball's gone. It was weird."
Facing forward, Moore could not see Sanchez miss the handoff, but he recalls that "You could feel it, you knew something wasn't right." When the fumble occurred, Moore was not aware that his buttocks had caused it; he learned of his role only after the game. When asked about the play, Moore answered, "Why do I need to talk about that? I don't understand why y'all keep asking about that play. ... I think it was a miscue with the handoff." After consulting Sanchez and his assistant coaches, Jets head coach Rex Ryan echoed the analysis: "My understanding is, I thought [Sanchez] reversed out the wrong way. That's what happened. It was a mental mistake and then he just tried to slide. When he did, he actually ran into Brandon."
There was some disagreement over Wilfork's role in causing the fumble. In the Patriots' postgame press conference, Wilfork recalled: "I was just fighting pressure with pressure—knowing, seeing the ball went that way. I'm just taught to fight pressure with pressure, so I just started fighting back and knocked him into Sanchez and it created a fumble." In NBC's television broadcast, immediately following the play, color commentator Cris Collinsworth said that "Vince Wilfork just threw Brandon Moore into Mark Sanchez," a view simultaneously echoed on the Patriots radio call by color analyst Scott Zolak. Moore disagreed with Collinsworth: "when somebody slides into the back of you, you're going to fall. That happens a lot in general. You don't know what's going on (behind you)." Responding to Moore, Collinsworth qualified his description in a phone interview with ESPN, saying that Wilfork could see the play develop, so "instead of trying to go around Moore, he pushed him back into the play and made the whole thing happen." A New York Daily News columnist sided with Moore, stating that "A second look at the play shows Moore holding his own against Wilfork and moving, if anything, mostly forward."
Gregory recalled of his performance in the game, "It was a good one for me today. Some of it was just the ball popping out and being in the right place at the right time. It was a team effort. The guys did a good job up front." Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Gregory's recovery of the fumble, "it was just a good scoop-and-score play."
With the extra point, the Patriots took a 21–0 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Jets return specialist Joe McKnight fumbled; the Patriots' Julian Edelman recovered the fumble in mid-air, and returned it 22 yards for yet another touchdown. The Patriots' lead widened to 28–0, as the Patriots scored 21 points in 52 seconds of game time. The TV cameras found Rex Ryan on the sideline exclaiming, "Un-fucking-believable!" Some Jets fans left MetLife Stadium; others booed and chanted for backup quarterback Tim Tebow to take over. By the two-minute warning before half time, the score was 35–0, and the stadium loudspeakers played "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over." Fireman Ed left the game before halftime, and he would retire his role as the team's unofficial mascot following the game.
The Jets played a better second half, but the Patriots went on to win in a rout, 49–19. NBC awarded the inaugural Madden Thanksgiving Player-of-the-Game to three Patriots players: Vince Wilfork, Steve Gregory, and Tom Brady. Gregory finished the game with two fumble recoveries, one for a touchdown, another forced fumble, and an interception. Brady completed 18 of 27 passes for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns and rushed for another touchdown, earning an NFL passer rating of 144.5 and an ESPN total quarterback rating (QBR) of 82.4. Sanchez went 26 for 36 with 301 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and one fumble, for a passer rating of 94.8 and a QBR of 22.9.
The NBC broadcast began with over 24 million viewers, but viewers tuned out from the game as it turned into a blowout. The broadcast dropped below 15 million by 10 p.m., and it averaged a disappointing 19.2 million viewers—a distant third place to the two earlier games. The game was the second-highest-rated primetime show that week, behind the Sunday Night matchup between the Packers and the Giants.
Including the butt fumble, Sanchez lost the ball 24 times in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In 2013, the Jets' new quarterbacks coach, David Lee, instituted a program to cut down on the fumbles by teaching Sanchez to hold the ball with both hands. In what Lee calls "The Sanchez Drill," the quarterback runs a gauntlet of people trying to knock the ball out of his hands with foam bats. Lee explained to the press, "Mark can win in this league. He has proven that. He's played for championships. I'm blatantly honest, brutally truthful at times. I told him, 'Hey, the best thing you can do to help our football team—the No.1 thing—is take care of the ball.'"
When Sanchez watched the replay with some of his teammates, they were generally supportive. "Hopefully we'll laugh about it later," he said. Moore remarked of the play's popularity, "The littlest things nowadays turn into Internet sensations. It's not surprising." When asked if he found the play amusing, Moore answered, "No."
In August 2013, New York Post sports reporter Justin Terranova wrote that the butt fumble "has come to define Sanchez's downfall with the Jets." Terranova wrote that the play had unfairly overshadowed Sanchez's AFC Championship campaigns in the previous two seasons, as well as Moore's "ten years manning a generally-solid Jets offensive line." When Moore retired in 2013, he reflected on the play, "It's amusing to me that people think it's so amusing. The way I look at it, I don't think it should have any link to my career. I don't think it stands for what I was as a player for 10 years. I really don't give it much thought."
Shortly after the game, Sanchez remarked, "It's the way it goes and will probably be on a blooper reel for a while. That's just part of playing." Sanchez would be proven right by ESPN's SportsCenter. Every Friday, SportsCenter has a "Not Top 10" blooper reel segment, which culminated in the "Worst of the Worst" play that which was voted on by fans online. The butt fumble won Worst of the Worst for 40 straight weeks, usually by a landslide. Anchor Jay Crawford compared the lowlight with the Stanford Band's involvement in The Play during the 1982 Cal–Stanford Big Game, and with Jean van de Velde's meltdown at the 1999 Open Championship. Anchor Kevin Negandhi listed the ingredients that contribute to the play's longevity: it features a celebrity on a well-known team making an embarrassing mistake that is immediately punished by the opposing team scoring, and the comedic "butt fumble" nickname completes "the perfect storm."
Sanchez addressed the coverage in an August 2013 interview: "People ask me about the butt fumble and say, 'Gosh, doesn't that really bum you out?' Are you kidding me? You think every Friday if it comes on 'SportsCenter' I'm just down in the dumps? Who cares? I'm working out. I'm hanging with my family. I'm doing some charity thing. It's the last thing on my mind."
On September 6, 2013, ESPN retired the butt fumble from "Worst of the Worst" after going undefeated for 40 weeks.[b] A SportsCenter producer explained that it was time to "start fresh" as the 2013 NFL season began. Negandhi concluded, "Time to get some new material and years from now, when we see a really bad play, we'll say, 'But can it compare to the Butt Fumble?' That is setting a legacy." Before retiring the play, ESPN subjected it to analysis on its "Sports Science" segment. In this segment, they show how Sanchez's speed combined with the angle of impact created a force of over 1,300 pounds, well over the 125 pounds required to cause a fumble.
- On fourth downs, only the offensive player who fumbles the ball can advance the ball beyond the spot of the fumble. Therefore, if any Jet other than Greene had touched the fumbled ball, it would have been ruled a dead ball at the spot of the fumble, and the Jets would turn the ball over on downs.
- SportsCenter eventually retired the "Worst of the Worst" portion of their "Not Top 10" segment altogether after last airing it on November 27, 2015.
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