By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The officiating throughout Sunday night’s AFC Championship Game had numerous questionable moments. Yet there was one penalty call made that was a black-and-white infraction, one that could not be disputed.

It was an obvious penalty. And it basically cost the Chiefs a trip to the Super Bowl.

It was also entirely avoidable. It came in the fourth quarter, with just over a minute left in the game and the Chiefs clinging to a 28-24 lead. Tom Brady threw a pass to Rob Gronkowski, but the tight end let the pass bounce off his hands and up into the air.

Charvarius Ward caught the pass out of midair, rushing toward the sideline with a victory essentially in his hands. The Patriots did have three timeouts at the time, but in a best-case scenario, they’d be getting the ball with about 40 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, needing a touchdown. The odds of even getting the ball back in that case would be extremely low.

Alas, a flag was thrown at the snap. If it was an illegal formation penalty on the Patriots, then it wouldn’t have mattered.

Yet when Clete Blakeman addressed the Kansas City crowd, his message was not well-received.

“Offside, defense number 55, lined up in the neutral zone. Five-yard penalty, replay third down.”

This was Dee Ford’s only appearance on the stat sheet. And it’s now how you want to end up there.

Dee Ford lined up in the neutral zone. (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

“I’ve got to see the ball. Especially at that time in that game and what was at stake, I’ve got to see that ball,” Ford said, per NFL.com. “We’ve got to be better. Me especially on that play, we’ve got to be better in these games. Every play counts.”

Instead of possessing the football with a four-point lead and 54 seconds left on the clock, the Chiefs were back on defense.

And on the ensuing third-and-5, Brady lobbed a jump ball for his hulking tight end up the left sideline. Rob Gronkowski came down with it for a 25-yard gain that set up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line for New England.

Rex Burkhead popped in a touchdown run on the next play, giving the Patriots a 31-28 lead with 42 seconds left.

The Chiefs were able to drive down the field for a game-tying field goal before the end of regulation, but Brady engineered a game-winning drive in overtime to win the game and punch the Patriots’ ticket to the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, will head home for the winter. It almost certainly would not have been the case if only Dee Ford had not lined up in the neutral zone.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

Comments (3)
  1. Maynard Runkle says:

    An infraction is an infraction and should be called. The infraction in the Saints-Rams game was actually TWO infractions: pass interference and a personal foul. They talk about preventing concussions and that is why intentional helmet to helmet contact is taboo. Yet, nothing was called! And although it sent the Rams to the Super Bowl instead of the Saints, some are criticizing the Saints for passing the ball in the first place. That is besides the point. A dirty play that could have left the defenseless receiver injured for life should be the focal point. What is to stop these dirty, career ending types of plays from happening if they can get away with it (and even brag about it later)??????
    Ironically, it was the Saints who in the past were accused of “headhunting” with ample evidence. This is a far worse crime than Spygate (everybody filmed sideline signals) and Deflategate (all footballs lose pressure when taken from warmer to colder environments and there is NO evidence it is of any benefit any way), yet the Patriots are called Cheatriots. Regardless, the Saints should be going to the Super Bowl and a certain Ram defender should be fined.

  2. Although the Saints non-call was obvious, the results of the off sides call are not. From what I’ve seen the ref who threw the flag had his hand on his flag before the snap, waiting to throw it if the player remained off sides when the ball snapped. Brady, who sees all that is going on in front of him, probably saw this and the “way off sides” player and knew he would have a free play and possibly made a riskier throw than he would have without a free play. So if Ford was on sides Brady never would have thrown to Gronk who never would have had the ball slip through his hands to Ward who never would have made an interception. Please stop making it sound like a forgone conclusion that if Ford was on sides that the Chiefs would have won the game. There is absolutely no way to tell what would have happened.

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