By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Aside from the busted coverages, what stood out in a big way after Sunday’s Patriots loss at home to the Panthers was the discrepancy in penalties.
The Patriots were flagged seven times for 55 yards by Jerome Boger’s crew, while the Panthers were penalized just once for 33 yards. (The Panthers were called for a hold on Dont’a Hightower’s sack, but it was declined.)
The fact that some of these penalties were ticky-tack calls, and that two of them came in critical spots on Carolina’s game-winning drive, ensured that the officiating would be a big part of this story. (Mike Pereira also said the holding penalty on Patrick Chung, which gave Carolina five free yards to get closer on the game-winning field goal, was an incorrect application of the rules.)
And, as it turns out, that’s a common theme when Boger officiates Patriots games.
Since 2012, Boger has refereed six Patriots games. In those six games, the Patriots have been called for 46 penalties, totaling 404 yards. Their opponents have been called for 28 penalties for 243 yards.
That includes the famed “On To Cincinnati” game in 2014, which is remembered fondly around these parts as the breakout game for a championship team. What’s been forgotten is that in that game, the Patriots were penalized 12 times for 114 yards. The Bengals were called for four penalties, totaling 37 yards.
Here’s a look at every Patriots game Boger has officiated since he became a referee in 2006:
2007 at Bengals:
2007 vs. Jets:
2009 vs. Buccaneers (London):
2011 vs. Jets:
2011 at Eagles:
2012 vs. Dolphins:
2013 at Jets****:
2013 vs. Browns:
2014 vs. Bengals:
2016 vs. Rams:
2017 vs. Panthers:
***This was the game where the Patriots were penalized for “illegal pushing” on a field-goal block attempt in overtime. The penalty wiped out a missed Nick Folk kick and essentially gave the Jets a victory.
All told, over 12 games, the Patriots have been penalized 80 times for 682 yards. Their opponents have been penalized 70 times for 564 yards.
But there’s been a noticeable change since 2012, with the Patriots getting called for at least twice as many infractions as their opponents in four of six games.
In the last three games officiated by Boger, the Patriots have been penalized 27 times for 215 yards, while their opponents have been penalized nine times for 100 yards. That’s three times as many penalties and more than twice as many yards.
Boger’s crew, like all NFL officiating crews, has undergone changes over the years. But there have been a few relative constants. Tony Steratore served as the back judge for all six Patriots games, and Tony Michalek (umpire) and Ed Camp (head linesman) each worked five of the six.
Of course, raw numbers don’t tell a comprehensive story. There certainly must have been times when the Patriots simply committed more penalties than the opponent. And some penalties — false start, offside, delay of game — require no judgment whatsoever from the officials on the field. Others — late hit, facemask, holding, intentional grounding — can be obvious and require very little judgment.
Yet on Sunday, a stray finger on a facemask was enough for Carolina to be given a fresh set of downs not once but twice, and the act of shedding a block on a running play resulted in another automatic first down on the final drive in a tie game, and at least one but possibly two phantom offensive pass interference penalties were called on the Patriots. And in a game like Sunday, when the Patriots’ defense made more mistakes than imaginable, it’d be wrong to identify officiating as the sole reason — or even a significant reason — for the loss.
Taken in conjunction with the history of Boger’s crew when working Patriots games, it’s at least worth wondering why such a stark contrast exists when Boger’s crew visits Foxboro.