By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Jerome Boger and his crew of merry officials did not gain too many fans in the New England area on Sunday afternoon. In fact, the folks in greater Kansas City likely weren’t too enamored with their work on Sunday, either.
The officiating was just that bad.
While it would be impossible to cover every questionable or outright bad call made or not made on Sunday, the poor officiating came to a head at the end of the third quarter, when Travis Kelce fumbled.
A dynamite strip by Devin McCourty jarred the ball loose from the Chiefs’ All-World tight end, and Stephon Gilmore picked up the loose ball and was well on his way to returning it 60 some-odd yards for a touchdown.
Yet the official closest to the play — line judge Rusty Baynes — inexplicably blew the play dead, emphatically signaling that Kelce had been down before losing control of the football. Considering a whistle kills the play, this negated Gilmore’s long return.
Gilmore said that he believed he would have scored a touchdown. Instead the play was blown dead. After the game — which the Chiefs won 23-16 — Gilmore was asked what was going through his mind when he heard the whistle.
“I don’t know. ‘What are we doing?’ Because I feel like they should have let it play out,” Gilmore said. “Just gotta live with it.”
Replay showed that Kelce very clearly and obviously fumbled before he was down, leading Bill Belichick to throw his challenge flag. The Patriots won the challenge, but they lost the Gilmore return.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 8, 2019
So, the Patriots’ offense took over at their own 43-yard line, where Gilmore clearly recovered the ball.
That was costly blown call No. 1.
The Patriots’ offense, which had been struggling all afternoon, actually put together a solid drive, getting the ball to the Kansas City 15-yard line thanks to a pass interference penalty on the Chiefs.
There, the Patriots sent rookie N’Keal Harry in motion. Brady hit Harry for a short completion, and Harry bulled his way toward the goal line. He absorbed some contact near the 5-yard line, but he stepped forward and made a diving extension toward the pylon.
Harry had the touchdown, his second of the season, but side judge Jonah Monroe pointed at the 3-yard line to signal that Harry stepped out of bounds.
“I mean, we all knew it was a touchdown. Everybody clearly saw that it was a touchdown,” Harry said after the game. “But like I said, it’s out of our control. … It’s frustrating, but we didn’t hang our heads on it. We didn’t even … we just gotta move forward. So that’s all you can do.”
Once again, replay showed that this ruling was wrong. Harry never stepped out, and it should have been a touchdown.
That was bad call No. 2.
— Bad Sports Refs (@BadSportsRefs) December 9, 2019
A simple challenge of this play would have easily awarded the Patriots a touchdown. Problem was, thanks to a failed challenge earlier in the second half, the Patriots were out of challenges. That forced the Patriots to deal with the bad call on the field.
And in making that call, Boger’s crew had the rare distinction of costing the Patriots two touchdowns on the same drive.
“What led to [the call] was the covering official on the wing was blocked out by defenders. 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,” Boger told a pool reporter. “So, they got together and conferred on that. The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the 3-yard line.”
Boger was asked if there was any consideration to ruling the play a touchdown on the field, because an automatic review would have determined if Harry had indeed stepped out of bounds.
“Not really,” Boger answered. “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.”
Complicating matters, two plays after Harry’s touchdown/non-touchdown, it looked like Jakobi Meyers hauled in a touchdown pass form Brady. The Bon Jovi touchdown song blared over the stadium speakers, and the Patriots’ field goal unit trotted onto the field for the PAT. Yet after a discussion, the officials on the field ruled that Meyers did not, in fact, catch the football.
That was the correct call, but the delay in announcing that call led to the Patriots needing to take a timeout — their second timeout of the second half — in order to run a play.
And on the Patriots’ next drive, Phillip Dorsett was clearly interfered with by Kendall Fuller on a deep pass from Brady.
Despite clear interference, no penalty flag was thrown.
“I was definitely surprised, because I was 99 percent confident that I was interfered with. But there was no call,” Dorsett said.
The Patriots overcame that non-call to some extent, as Brady scampered for a gain of 17 yards on the ensuing fourth-and-6. The penalty would have given the Patriots 24 yards and set them up with a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 3:27 left in the game. The Patriots ended up getting to the 5-yard line, but they got there for a fourth-and-3 with just 1:11 left in the game. Brady threw incomplete on that fourth down, allowing Kansas City to kneel the ball and drain the final seconds of the fourth quarter to complete the seven-point victory.
After the game, Belichick didn’t have much to say on the officiating.
“Yeah, well, it’s the National Football League. Just got to continue to compete, control what you control,” Belichick said.
Likewise, Brady didn’t offer much in terms of officiating critiques.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s … yeah,” Brady said when asked about the Harry play. “Doesn’t happen very often. So, it happened. We still had a chance and wish we could have scored there at the end.”
Again, it was a game where Boger and his crew did not shed a positive light on NFL officiating. It wasn’t at all one-sided or discriminatory. It was just plain bad. And in this instance, it cost the Patriots four points … twice.