As a Patriots fan, the last significant loss I have had to deal with was November 30th, 2014 when the Patriots just fell short to the Aaron Rodgers led Packers in Green Bay. A full year later Patriots fans woke up on a Monday morning in unfamiliar circumstances. Their team lost a heartbreaker to the Denver Broncos in overtime, in a game where almost every significant player for the Patriots except for Tom Brady was injured at some point. The Patriots still managed to out play Denver for the vast majority of the game, but their biggest mistake came in the fourth quarter once Chris Harper fumbled a punt, putting Denver back in the game. What made things ultimately worse was the fact that the Patriots allowed the referees to play a role in the outcome of the game.
In the first three quarters of the game, the Patriots only had one penalty called against them, and that was an obvious face mask call on Tavon Wilson in the third quarter. They finished the game with five total penalties, four coming in the fourth quarter. The first significant call of the fourth quarter came in the drive right after Denver narrowed the score to 21-14. The Patriots were faced with a third and eleven play, but Tom Brady scrambled and found Keshawn Martin 51 yards down field. The play was called back however because of a holding call on Tre’ Jackson. It was without a doubt a hold, but Patriots fans gripe with the call is due to the fact that the officials were not calling it both ways. For example, on CJ Anderson’s 48-yard walk off touchdown Devin McCourty was blatantly held in the backfield. That would have made it third down and eleven from the Denver’s own 41 in sudden death over time. I would have liked the Patriots chances in that situation. The old adage in football is that you can call holding on every play, but if your going to go all in with holding calls make sure it’s a two-way street.
The next egregious penalty came while the Patriots had the ball up by four points with just over five minutes left to play. On a third and five play Brady hit Gronkowski for a ten-yard gain. Nevertheless, it was called back for offensive pass interference on Gronkowski. This was the tenth offensive pass interference called on the Patriots this season. That is first in the league, and the teams tied for second only have five calls against them. It is evident that opposing teams and officials are focusing squarely on a player such as Gronkowski because of his size, and he cannot get away with anything close to offensive interference.
Without a doubt, the worst call in this game and arguably the season so far came on the Broncos final possession of regulation. Denver drove the ball down the field and had it second and goal at the seven-yard line. That is when Alan Branch came up with the huge play bursting through the line and taking down Brock Osweiler for a loss of twelve yards, seemingly putting the Broncos is a third and nineteen situation. However, yet again the referees got in the way calling a, “ticky-tack” to say the least, holding call on Patrick Chung in the end zone on Demaryius Thomas, where Thomas clearly grabbed Chung’s face mask. The worst part is Brock didn’t even look in that direction and the ball wasn’t in the air. That call cost the Patriots the game. If it were third and goal from the 19, I would take the Patriots to hold Denver twice there. After that they would only need to take a knee and they would be on to 11-0.
Now, personally I have never been the person to blame officials for Patriots losses. I can’t think of a game where they truly out played their opponent and the were just beaten by the zebras. This game this past Sunday has made the best case thus far. Sure, the Patriots didn’t capitalize. There was questionable play calling down the stretch, Patrick Chung dropping an interception, and of course Chris Harper muffing the punt (he has since been released). They didn’t make some of the plays they could’ve made to win the game.
This refereeing issue does need to be solved. I’m sorry to all you Roger Goodell hating, conspiracy theorists Patriots fans, but this isn’t a result of the league having it out for the Patriots, it is just a league wide issue. What the commissioner should do is start having his zebras be held accountable like a player would be if they were to make a mistake. Until he does that, nothing will change and unfortunately the tipping point for officials would have to come in the playoffs when generally flags aren’t called. Until then playoff seeding’s and potential spots in the tournament will continue to be in jeopardy large in part due to the officials. It is one thing that fans of all team can come together on.