The New England Patriots fell behind 23-7 in the third quarter of their game against the Kansas City Chiefs, but rallied their way back into the contest due to some timely plays on defense and special teams in combination with the offense getting into some rhythm. Eventually, with 13 minutes left in the contest, the Patriots were on the verge of turning the game into a three-point affair on a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to N’Keal Harry.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be: while replay showed that Harry had cleanly broken the plane on his catch and run, the officiating crew headed by referee Jerome Boger ruled that the rookie receiver had stepped out of bounds at the Chiefs’ 3-yard line. The Patriots, who were unable to challenge the play after already throwing the red flag twice earlier during the half, had to settle for a field goal and would never come closer again. They ultimately lost 23-16.
The non-touchdown was arguably the most controversial play of the day, but far from the only one on both sides that saw Boger and his crew struggle to make the correct calls on the field. For Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, however, the officiating did not serve as an easy target after the game. Instead, the future Hall of Famer pointed out that his team still had chances to win the contest despite some calls going against it.
“It just wasn’t quite good enough under the circumstances in the game. There’s no point in talking about those,” Belichick said during his postgame press conference before shifting attention back to his own team and the job it had to do no matter of what was or was not called by the officiating crew: “That’s the National Football League. Just got to continue to compete, control what you can control.”
Defensive back and team captain Devin McCourty sang a similar song following the game. The veteran did, however, acknowledge that losing the game with some calls going against the Patriots did “suck” for the team: “You play well enough to win and a couple of things don’t go your way that are kind of out of your hands and make it tough. [...] We still had a chance in the game. I think that’s what it comes down to.”
Fellow defender Duron Harmon, meanwhile, opened up a bit more about his feelings on the referees: “When you have two touchdowns taken away from you, it’s always a tough pill to swallow. It sucks, because at the end of the day, we felt like those were the plays that were going to help us change the momentum [...] I know the refs, they have a hard job. I’m not going sit here and say their job is easy. But at the end of the day, we all have a job, and we all get paid money to do a job and do it well.”
Harry’s touchdown was not the only play that saw the Patriots come up on the short end of officiating decisions. Earlier during the second half, the team challenged the spot on a third down play but the call was upheld. Just five plays later, Bill Belichick again had to pull the red challenge flag from his sock to demand a replay when McCourty forced a fumble against Travis Kelce. The Chiefs’ tight end play was ruled down by contact, but replay clearly showed him fumbling the football before.
While the play was ultimately overturned in New England’s favor, the inadvertent call made by Boger’s crew forced the team to use its final challenge of the game — one that was missed during Harry’s play on the next series. Furthermore, Kelce being ruled down by contact prevented cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who recovered the fumble, from returning the football possibly for a touchdown: only Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was between the defender and a potential scoop-and-score play.
“They should’ve let it keep playing, but that’s the ref’s call,” said Gilmore in the locker room after the game. Like his teammates, Gilmore also did not go all-in to criticize the officiating — Belichick, McCourty and quarterback Tom Brady set the tone for that. Brady, for example, lamented that the offense was unable to take advantage of its goof field position after N’Keal Harry’s almost-touchdown: “We still had a chance. Wish we could’ve scored.”
At the end of they day, the Patriots may grapple with how some of the officiating decisions turned out but they know that they still had opportunities to come away victoriously. However, they failed to capitalize of them.