Screwed. Jobbed. Porked.
Grab a thesaurus -- or if you’re a little more digital and edgy log on to Urbandictionary.com -- and you can come up with plenty of words to describe the role the officials played the Patriots 23-16 loss to the Chiefs Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium.
As safety Duron Harmon put it so succinctly, “at the end of the day when you have two touchdowns taken away from you that’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Indeed Bill Belichick’s team did have two would-be touchdowns – although technically you can only score once per possession, so it was a one-score screw job -- taken away from it in a two-minute span while trying to pull off a comeback from what at one point was a 20-7 deficit.
The first instance came when Devin McCourty forced a Travis Kelce fumble in the waning seconds of the third quarter, teammate Stephon Gilmore picking the ball up at the Patriots 43 for what would have been a race with speedster Tyreek Hill, Patrick Mahomes toward the end zone.
Unfortunately for New England, someone on referee Jerome Boger’s at-times overmatched officiating crew blew the play dead – blew it indeed! -- calling the tight end down by contact.
Belichick swiftly and correctly tossed his trusty replay review flag, his team soon accurately awarded obvious possession at the Chiefs 49.
But that potential touchdown was gone forever.
And Gilmore was left thinking little more than, “what are you doing?” regarding the officials’ whistle.
A handful of plays later, though, things got even worse.
Tom Brady hit N’Keal Harry for a short pass on the left side from the 15-yard line and the rookie made a first-round pick kind of play diving with possession just inside the left pylon.
Unfortunately for New England, though, the referees ruled that Harry had stepped out at the 3.
Even as the Patriots’ stunned PAT team ran on and then back off the field, replay showed the receiver was indeed in bounds and in the end zone.
But with Belichick having used his final challenge to fix the previous error on the Kelce fumble, Brady, Harry and the Patriots had little recourse other than to rush to get back to work, settling for a short Nick Folk field goal three plays later, the final, losing score now on the board.
Afterwards, neither Belichick nor Brady had much to say about the series of unfortunate officiating events.
“You’d have to talk to them about that,” Belichick said rather unsurprisingly.
A postgame pool report shed little light on the mind-numbingly unacceptable mistakes. The first play was not discussed with Boger, and the referee basically went with a “we missed it” defense on the Harry score.
“What led to it was the covering official on the wing was blocked out by defenders,” Boger said. “The downfield official who was on the goal line and looking back toward the field of play had that he stepped out at the three-yard line. So, they got together and conferred on that. The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the three-yard line.”
Boger also said there was not a consideration to err on the side of calling a touchdown, a scoring play that would have initiated an automatic replay review.
“Those two officials who were covering it, they look at it in real time. This case was unique in that the guy who would have ruled touchdown had him short. So maybe if that ruling official on the goal line had a touchdown, we could have gotten into that, but he thought that that guy stepped out of bounds. The goal line wasn’t in the play.”
If you say so, but anyone watching knows better.
Certainly the Patriots players, coaches and fans, including those at Gillette Stadium who let the officials hear about their borderline incomprehensible errors.
Boos and chants may make us feel better, but it didn’t change the result.
“It sucks because at the end of the day, we felt like those plays were going to change the momentum of the game and eventually put us in a spot to win the football game,” Harmon said. “It was taken away from us. I know the referees have a tough job. I’m not going to say their job is easy, you know just make a better call and do this better. At the end of the day we all have a job, and we all get paid money to do the job and do it well.”
The hardest part for the players to digest is that they’ve been coached and even told by the officials when they visit training camps in the summer to continue to play in such turnover situations as the Kelce play because the crews will err on the side of playing things out.
“Especially turnovers, any time the ball comes out you let the play play out because all turnovers are going to be reviewable. We know that. That’s what they told us when they came here and for whatever reason it was the opposite way today,” Harmon said, clearly still frustrated but not wanting to earn fine from the league with his comments. “I’m not going to sit here and keep going back and forth about the officials and how they officiated the game, because I want to obviously keep my money in my pocket. But we needed better today.”
As much as the Patriots were let down and, dare we say, screwed over by the officials, New England certainly helped put itself in position for such a scenario.
Belichick’s first challenge curiously was used on a Chiefs’ third down conversion less than three minutes before the controversial Kelce fumble. He challenged both the first down spot on the third-and-4 completion for 5 yards as well as whether there was offensive pass interference on the play.
It was an ill-advised flag throwing that he lost. Had he not used it then, he would have had a challenge to use on the Harry score. Which would have been a touchdown. Which would have pulled the Patriots to within 23-20 and made their last possession drive to the K.C. 5-yard line more than enough for the game-tying field goal. Instead Brady’s fourth-down throw for Edelman was knocked down and the game was over.
From poor pass defense allowing Patrick Mahomes to throw for 226 yards in the first half to continued offensive inefficiencies early thanks to no running game, too much pass rush and limited success catching the ball, the Patriots fought an uphill battle most of the evening against the now-AFC West champs.
They did plenty of things that could be seen to have cost them the game.
But in the end, thanks to the season-long formula for success that included a blocked punt and forcing turnovers, the Patriots very much had a chance for the comeback win Sunday evening.
And the officials took that chance away.
Did the Chiefs beat the Patriots? Maybe.
Did the Patriots help beat themselves? Probably.
Did Jerome Boger’s crew screw New England? Definitely.
And for a 10-3 team of defending Super Bowl champions that is scuffling through two-game December losing streak for the second straight season, one that’s watching its chances for the No. 1 seed disappear, that’s tough to swallow.
A big game between two Super Bowl contenders, coached by two Hall of Fame sideline bosses, led by two former MVP quarterbacks shouldn’t end up a story about poor officiating.
But that’s exactly what happened with this AFC Championship Game rematch.
Harmon was right.