The Truth About “The Buttfumble”


If one play is going to haunt Mark Sanchez throughout the remainder of his career, it will be the so-called ‘butt fumble’. We’ve all seen it and we know exactly what happened: That clown quarterback ran straight up his own lineman’s ass. Cue hilarity and endless re-runs on Sportscenter. And then stop. Watch the tape. Look at what actually happened.

Thanksgiving 2012, the Patriots are visiting the Jets, and the fanbase is nervously optimistic that this might be the game where Gang Green finally make their mark on what has been a disappointingly lacklustre campaign. Unfortunately though, things aren’t quite working out that way – the home team trails by 14-0 and with 9:15 to go in the second quarter they are facing a 1st & 10 on their own 31-yard line.

Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has sent 22 personnel (2 RB, 2 TE) onto the field and they’re lined up in Jumbo I-Formation (Picture 1). For reasons that will soon become obvious, it’s impossible to state with absolute certainty what the play-call was, although it very much seems that after receiving a hand-off from Sanchez, halfback Shonn Greene (red) was supposed to follow the lead block of fullback Lex Hilliard (yellow) and hit the ‘2 hole’ between center Nick Mangold and pulling tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson (purple).

Picture 1: Hilliard leads, Ferguson pulls, Greene follows.

Picture 1: Hilliard leads, Ferguson pulls, Greene follows.

Okay, so much for the theory – now look at what happens in practice (Picture 2). As Sanchez turns and fakes the hand-off to Hilliard it’s important to note the position of Hilliard’s arms (turquoise). He is clearly ‘accepting’ the fake hand-off and this can be taken as evidence that he and Sanchez were both on the same page. Meanwhile, Greene has inexplicably begun peeling off towards the flat and has raised his arms (red) as if he is expecting the ball to be pitched to him. Another point to notice here is the double-team (green) of guard Brandon Moore and center Nick Mangold against Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Picture 2: Note the Hilliard and Greene's positions and the double-team against Wilfork.

Picture 2: Note Hilliard and Greene’s positions and the double-team against Wilfork.

By this stage Sanchez has a big problem in that he has unexpectedly become the ball-carrier on a designed running play, yet he is heading in directly the opposite direction to where the play was intended to go. So, what does he do? His initial reaction is to make amends for Greene’s error by attempting to hit the designated hole himself. But when he sees that Slauson’s block (yellow) has been defeated (Picture 3) he instinctively abandons that plan and cuts to the weakside of the play.

Picture 3: Sanchez has nowhere to go, so he cuts it back.

Picture 3: Sanchez has nowhere to go, so he cuts it back.

By this stage of events, Wilfork is no longer being double-teamed and Mangold (who has no idea about the mayhem that’s developing behind him) has ‘washed-down’ so that he can go looking to make a block at the second-level. Now, here’s the key to what is about to happen (Picture 4): Look at the body position of Wilfork (red) as Mangold (yellow) washes off. To this point he has been dealing single-handedly with Moore. When he turns his full weight and attention towards the Jets guard, that’s where a busted play suddenly descends into farce.

Picture 4: At this stage Wilfork has his right arm free.

Picture 4: At this stage Wilfork has his right arm free.

Wilfork’s sheer strength and power (coupled with Moore’s altogether too high pad-level) result in the guard being literally picked up off his feet (Picture 5, inset) and shunted backwards towards his scrambling quarterback. Sanchez, meanwhile, has almost made it back to the line of scrimmage and has begun to slide in the hope that he’s been able to prevent the busted play from resulting in a significant loss of yardage.

Picture 5: Wilfork has lifted Moore to the point where his left foot is off the ground.

Picture 5: Wilfork has lifted Moore to the point where his left foot is entirely off the ground.

Although Wilfork’s movement of Moore wasn’t initially enormous, it was enough to ensure that where Sanchez’s slide would once have missed him by a comfortable enough margin, the luckless quarterback now suddenly finds that the Moore’s backside is being forced into his helmet. As Sanchez collides and then slides underneath, that’s the point when the broadcast TV cameras catch the full impact of Wilfork’s beasting, and depict Moore collapsing backwards onto his quarterback (Picture 6). Meanwhile, as the 335 lb guard lands squarely on his chest, Sanchez loses the football.

Picture 6: TV cameras show Moore collapse backwards  as Sanchez fumbles.

Picture 6: TV cameras show Moore collapse backwards as Sanchez fumbles.

And that, football fans, is the story of what really happened during the so-called ‘butt-fumble’. Maybe you’d like to believe the mainstream media’s line and dumbly believe that it was as simple as an inept quarterback running into his own lineman’s ass. Or perhaps you’d prefer to weigh the evidence up with your own eyes and understand that the entire incident was initiated by Greene, facilitated by Moore, and executed by Wilfork.

Mark Sanchez was at fault for many things in 2012: The ‘butt fumble’ was not one of them.

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