By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Last year in the Patriots’ game against the Chiefs, officiating gaffes cost the Patriots a touchdown. Twice. On the same drive. (Really, they did.)
This year, yet another instance of awful officiating cost the Patriots in a key moment against the Chiefs. A dreadful mistake by quarterback Brian Hoyer made this one sting even worse.
The sequence began when Chase Winovich had Patrick Mahomes wrapped up and was bringing the quarterback down to the ground. Deatrich Wise swooped in and jarred the ball free from Mahomes, who had his eyes up the field and was trying to make a last-ditch effort to make a play.
The loose ball was caught out of mid-air by Shilique Calhoun. Whether it was a fumble or an interception didn’t really matter, because the Patriots had clearly forced a turnover.
Terrible call. The #Patriots should have the football. Also…Mahomes still doesn't trust what he's seeing and when he's seeing it, he's seeing his guys covered. #Patriots #Chiefs @nflnetwork @AroundTheNFL pic.twitter.com/Lf6sKKNhQg
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) October 6, 2020
Calhoun would have been tackled by Eric Fisher at the Chiefs’ 35-yard line. But instead, whistles started blowing, and referee Tony Corrente ruled that Mahomes had been down prior to losing the ball. Whether Corrente ruled that Mahomes was actually down or whether the ref ruled that the QB was “in the grasp” of the defender (thus ending the play), nobody knew, because Corrente did not announce his ruling.
On the Mahomes fumble, if Corrente ruled that the QB was "in the grasp," the vagueness of the rule technically saves him.
(It's a stupidly worded rule. The quarterback's safety is always in jeopardy while standing on an NFL field. pic.twitter.com/cwfOofddFj
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 6, 2020
Given the timing of the late whistle, it’s fair to assume Corrente didn’t believe Mahomes was in the grasp and thus in jeopardy of getting hurt until after the resulting effort led to a turnover. Had Mahomes pulled off a Mahomes-esque miraculous completion, that late whistle to kill the play most certainly would not have come.
Belichick could not challenge the play, based on the ruling. Just to be safe, the Chiefs rushed their punt team onto the field to quickly get the next snap away, a move which might have prevented the Patriots from challenging if it were allowable in that scenario.
So, instead of gaining possession at the Chiefs’ 35-yard line, the Patriots took over at their own 35-yard line, getting a free 15 yards from an Antonio Hamilton personal foul after the punt sailed into the end zone.
From there, it looked like the Patriots were actually going to overcome the adversity, as they drove 56 to get inside of easy field goal range before halftime. The team decided that a field goal to tie the game at 6-6 was not enough, instead trying to get a touchdown before the end of the half.
Alas, with no timeouts left, Hoyer threw behind the line of scrimmage to James White for a loss of four yards on a second-and-5. With the clock running, Hoyer took the third-down snap knowing that the only two things he could not do were take a sack or throw an interception.
Yet Hoyer, a 12-year NFL veteran, made a brutal mental mistake by freezing with the ball, turning away from the line of scrimmage, running backward, and ultimately taking a sack. As a result, the final seconds ticked off the clock, and the Patriots didn’t score.
Worse: Hoyer got up from the sack and motioned to call timeout. Clearly, the veteran QB — who was starting for Cam Newton, who tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend — did not know the situation.
Terrible play by Hoyer. Just can't happen. And for a second, he thinks he has a timeout. No sir. So the Patriots dropped a surefire INT and the #Chiefs eventually got 3 on the drove and now they took a chip shot field goal attempt off the board as well. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/qOJeJQpeYD
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) October 6, 2020
In that sense, the lack of points before halftime was not entirely due to the officials. But the loss of field position no doubt loomed large over that sequence, thanks in part to a call that should not have happened.
After the game, which the Patriots lost 26-10, Belichick said that given Corrente’s call of forward progress, the Patriots couldn’t challenge the play.
Corrente explained: “I felt that he was being controlled quite a bit prior to him actually going to the ground. And as he was being controlled, other players were coming in at him. And so with those other players bearing down on him, a quarterback is considered in the grasp and his forward progress is considered stopped when I feel as though the player’s safety is being jeopardized. And that was the case in this instance. So, rather than allow him to get hit by a second and third player, we shut it down and considered it forward progress at that point.”
Belichick bluntly said postgame: “He called forward progress and that he was down. You can’t challenge that.”
While the letter of the law may protect the referee on this particular instance, everybody watching knew that they had just witnessed a turnover. Everybody, that is, except for Corrente, the only person whose opinion really mattered.