NFL officiating crews draw ire from football fans across the country on a game-to-game basis. It is an aspect of the officiating world that is part of the job for the men and women in stripes on the field. This season, criticisms against officiating have run rampant across the football world, particularly in response to new replay changes. Rarely, a crew’s performance will illicit this harsh criticism from our platform, but in the case of the Chiefs-Patriots game on Sunday afternoon, an overall performance by the officiating crew has left a blemish on the game that is inherently unavoidable in our sphere, as Jerome Boger’s crew will inevitably be the talk of this game in the coming days.
While all errors in officiating technically have equal weight, there are some that took place in Foxboro on Sunday that definitely had some extra influence on the game’s final outcome. As a student of officiating, and as an official myself, the term “influence on the game’s final outcome” is something that no official, at any level, wants to be a part of. However, when it happens, it must be talked about. Several key misfires plagued the crew on Sunday, and we might as well start with the one that is being talked about most:
Patriots’ Harry did not step out of bounds prior to scoring
Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line prior to scoring a touchdown. Side judge Jonah Monroe initially had the possibility that Harry would have broken the plane of the goal line but suspected Harry stepped out of bounds and held back on a touchdown signal. Monroe requested confirmation from down judge Patrick Holt, who is responsible for watching the runner’s feet to see if they step out of bounds during a run. Boger said in a post-game interview with a pool reporter, Holt “was blocked out by defenders. [Monroe], who was on the goal line and looking back toward the field of play, had [Harry] out at the 3-yard line. So [Holt and Monroe] got together and conferred on that.”
“The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the 3-yard line,” Boger said. “This case was unique in that the [official] who would have ruled touchdown had him short.”
The replays showed it: Harry did not step out of bounds. However, since New England was out of challenges at this point in the game, they were unable to challenge a call that likely would have been changed to a touchdown. (By rule, replay can reverse an out-of-bounds call to a first down or touchdown if the runner is given one more step beyond the out-of-bounds. Otherwise it is not reversable.) Since this was not a scoring play, it was not automatically reviewable, even if the result of the play would have turned the play into a scoring play.
Improper penalty enforcement for an offensive illegal use of hands
Incorrect penalty enforcements fall on the entire crew. No one may be talking about this play from midway through the third quarter, but it may be one of the biggest errors of the game. Chiefs offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was correctly penalized for an illegal use of hands foul, but instead of marking off a 10 yard penalty, the crew only penalized Kansas City five yards. Often, referees will misspeak over the microphone and give the wrong penalty yardage, but here, the 2nd and 10 turned into a 2nd and 15, when it should have been 2nd and 20.
Any member of the crew is responsible for shutting the play down in this scenario to inform the referee of the enforcement error. Since this did not happen, all seven members of the crew will be held accountable for the improper penalty enforcement.
Quick whistle potentially costs New England a touchdown
An early whistle by a member of the crew nullified a fumble return by New England. While the play was correctly reversed in replay from down by contact to a fumble, the advance of the fumble is negated due to the whistle being blown. A similar play occurred in Los Angeles this year when a fumble return by the Saints was disregarded in replay following a quick whistle. We don’t know who blew the whistle, so it would be unfair to assume one member of the crew over another. In any event, this is actually more common than many New England fans will say it is, but it does hurt a team’s momentum to have a whistle possibly cost a team a touchdown return.
Marginal call for an illegal blindside block pushes Kansas City back
Chiefs offensive lineman Austin Reiter was flagged for an illegal blindside block early in the second quarter. New this season, all blindside blocks are now illegal, which is defined as a forcible block with the head, shoulder, or forearm which is delivered to an opponent while traveling toward the blocker’s own end line. While there has been an emphasis on this foul this season, this doesn’t seem to fall under the category of an illegal blindside block. While Reiter does block backwards toward his own end line, and initiates the block with his forearm, the contact was not at all forcible. The New England defender was actually able to push Reiter away during the block.
By the rule, and by the league’s interpretations, this may be an illegal blindside block. But, it was a marginal call, at best.
Miscall for offensive holding stalls Kansas City drive early
Referee Jerome Boger penalized Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz for holding halfway through the first quarter. After looking back at the foul, there really was no restriction of Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, as instead Van Noy’s pursuit may have appeared as though he was being held. Only one real angle of the holding foul is available at this time, and it is not the greatest angle, but this may have been a call where Boger wanted to keep his flag in his belt.
Sloppy take-back of a touchdown ruling
I saved this play for last because the ruling on the field was 100% correct. Umpire Carl Paganelli saved the crew here by overruling down judge Patrick Holt’s call of a touchdown on this play. The ball did indeed hit the ground, but there was a brief delay in overturning the call, which did not receive a supporting announcement to explain the change on the field. While the call was correct here, the mechanics that took play post-signal appeared to be sloppy, and the crew should have come together to make one cohesive call using all angles that were covered at each officiating position.
It is never easy to take this point of view against the crew following a game, but in a season where officiating has been at the forefront, the performance by Jerome Boger’s crew in this game definitely did not help the officials’ cause in the court of public opinion.