Georgia Tech great Shaquille Mason played an important role in the New England Patriots’ historic comeback against the Falcons Sunday in Super Bowl 51. On the Patriots’ final two touchdown plays alone, the New England right guard threw decisive blocks that helped enable running back James White to reach the end zone.
However, even beyond his membership on a widely loathed team, his role in a play on the Patriots’ game-winning drive in overtime may induce a conflicting knot of emotions for those who root for both the Falcons and the Yellow Jackets. On a 1st-and-10 play from the Falcons 25-yard line that picked up 10 yards, it appears Mason and Patriots center David Andrews should have been penalized for – you guessed it – a chop block.
Rightly or wrongly, and much to the aggravation of Tech supporters, Tech and chop blocks are strongly associated, mostly by opponents and their fans, probably many of whom confuse chop blocks (illegal) with cut blocks (legal). To be clear, Mason does not play for Tech anymore. Those who would find it a confirmation that Tech uses nefarious means would be misguided. He threw a cut block, a technique used across college football and the NFL, because his Patriots coaches instruct him to do so. But it's an odd coincidence. To add to the confluence, Andrews is a former Georgia Bulldog.
On the play, Mason blocked Falcons defensive end Tyson Jackson at the line and then released downfield. Quarterback Tom Brady threw a swing pass – it was actually ruled a lateral – to running back James White. Running downfield, Mason spilled Falcons linebacker Deion Jones with a textbook cut block. However, at the same moment, Marshall, who had also released downfield, shoved Jones, who it appears even fell over Mason. It gave White the space to carry the ball 10 yards for a first down at the Falcons 15-yard line.
The NFL rule book states that a chop block “is a block by the offense in which one offensive player blocks a defensive player in the area of the thigh or lower while another offensive player engages that same player above the waist."
Gerald Austin, who officiated in the NFL for 26 years and was assigned to three Super Bowls, said it appeared that it was a chop block.
“Are both aspects there?” asked Austin, referring to the high-low blocks from both players. “In my opinion, both aspects are represented in this block.”
You can judge for yourself on the video on the NFL website. (The video is titled “Complete Super Bowl LI highlights,” and the play in question is at 18:58.)
Had the penalty been called, New England would have had 1st-and-25 on the Falcons 40 instead of 1st-and-10 on the Falcons 15. After a pass-interference penalty on the subsequent play, the Patriots were in the end zone two plays later.
Austin had an understanding why an official might have missed it. Chop blocks typically occur in the scrum on the line of scrimmage, not in the open field.
“You’re not thinking chop block out there,” said Austin, who added that in a typical game there are five or six plays that are either missed or incorrectly penalized.
In this instance, it appears the play was not designed for Mason and Andrews to double team Jones, high-low or otherwise.
“It appeared that both offensive players were looking for someone that had the potential to get out on the play, and they both saw the same guy at the same time,” Austin said. “That created the chop block.”
Would a penalty have made a difference? It’s impossible to know, obviously. In their final two drives, the Patriots averaged 8.5 yards per play. Once New England won the coin toss, a game-winning touchdown drive had an air of inevitability. But, obviously, it would have at least imposed a greater challenge on the Patriots.
Clearly, though, it didn’t decide the game any more than the multitude of plays made by New England and not made by the Falcons in the fourth quarter and overtime.