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Explaining the controversial late-game officiating in the Patriots’ 35-29 loss to the Cowboys

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 35-29 loss to Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ game against the Dallas Cowboys came down to the wire. After Dallas went up on a pick-six, the Patriots truck right back only to see the visitors tie the game at 29 with seconds remaining. In overtime, the Cowboys would prevail thanks to a 35-yard touchdown pass.

Along the way, the referees also were in the spotlight on more than one occasion. The first came on that game-tying series in the fourth quarter, with Dallas offensive lineman Connor Williams flagged for holding and then drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on top of it.

The play happened on 2nd-and-10, and one would assume that it would lead to a 3rd-and-35 on the next play. However, when the teams huddled up again Dallas was facing a 3rd-and-25 that also left CBS expert Gene Steratore confused.

So, did the referees make a mistake? According to our friends at Football Zebras, they did not:

Umpire Bruce Stritesky calls Connor Williams for holding, taking the Cowboys out of field goal range (for the moment). Williams then, apparently, argued with Stritesky and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct foul.

NFL live ball/dead ball penalty enforcements are different than college and high school. The “live ball” period carries over after the whistle much longer in the NFL, so the Patriots had to choose between the holding foul or the unsportsmanlike conduct foul to enforce. Naturally, the Patriots chose the 15-yarder.

In high school and college football, both of these penalties are enforced and all 25-yards in penalties would have been walked off.

The holding call was not the only one worth taking a closer look at, though. Later in the game, with the Patriots in possession in overtime, there was another controversial moment involving wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

The play in question — an incompletion on 3rd-and-3 — looked as follows:

While Agholor appeared to have been touched by the face mask — a 15-yard penalty that also would have given the Patriots a new set of downs — no flag was thrown. As opposed to the first play, which was ruled correctly, this one could very well have been called differently by the officiating crew.

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was asked about the no-call after the game, but he did not blame the referees.

“Yeah, it’s football,” the rookie said. “It’s bang-bang, but when it’s one-on-one, things happen, and it’s not my job to throw the flag. You know, you’ve just got to stick to my rules and stick to my keys, and sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.

“You can’t blame everything on the refs or anything. They call their game, and we have to execute our game plan. It’s an it-is-what-it-is situation, and we just have to move on and find ways to not be in that position where we can be ahead and we don’t have to be in that position.”

The Patriots went on to punt the ball after the incompletion, with Dallas driving for the win on the next series.