Patriots Blog

Proper officiating plays minor role in Patriots’ win

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the second time in as many weeks, the New England Patriots won a football game due, at least in part, to the correct application of league rules by NFL officials.
Proper officiating led to an outcry after New England’s victory over the Steelers last week when officials overturned a would-be, game-winning touchdown for Pittsburgh. Many suggested that the correctly applied rules should be changed as they did not in that instance work in favor of the Steelers. Because why should the Steelers still have only six Super Bowl rings when other teams have almost as many?
The issue of sound officiating arose once again on Sunday when the Patriots beat the Bills 37-16. Shortly before halftime, Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw a well-placed ball to Kelvin Benjamin in the back corner of the end zone. Benjamin made an incredible play to snag the ball over Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore and then fell out of bounds in what the officials originally ruled to be a touchdown catch.
After a long review from multiple angles, head official Craig Wrolstad correctly determined that Benjamin juggled the ball in between steps. He therefore did not have control at the same time his feet were in bounds. In accordance with Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 of the NFL rulebook, this meant the play was not a catch.
“When the receiver got confirmed control of the football, he was not able to get both feet down in bounds,” Wrolstad told a pool reporter after the game. “So, his back foot was already off the ground and it stepped out of bounds. His firm control did not occur until after he had one foot off the ground.
Wrolstad, therefore had no choice but to rule the pass incomplete. And that’s what he did, much to the dismay of people who wanted the Bills to win and people who don’t like Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 of the NFL Rulebook. “I don’t know what a catch is anymore!” those people say. Every week. As if they are incapable of Googling, “Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3.” Or even just, “What is a catch?” a phrase that would eventually lead them to either Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 or a brief explanation of it.
Bills coach Sean McDermott, whose ability to understand the rules is vital to his livelihood, suggested he had no idea why the call was overturned.
“I am at a loss for how a play like that can get overturned,” the coach said as if he too had never perused the final points of Rule 8.
Instead of a touchdown that would’ve put Buffalo ahead 17-13, the Bills wound up kicking a field goal. Therefore, if not for the overturned touchdown, the Bills would have scored four more points in the game and would only have lost by 17 points instead of 21.
Some might argue that the Bills would’ve played better in the second half if they had been credited with the touchdown. Why? Because touchdowns imbue teams with the intangible benefit of momentum. Instead of touchdown momentum, the Bills only had field goal momentum. They rode field goal momentum to another field goal at the start of the second half, and then New England scored the final 24 points of the game.
New England had to generate those 24 points without the benefit of recent touchdown momentum. Instead, they relied on the performance of their players, and those players performed well. Dion Lewis ran for a career-high 129 yards and scored a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Rob Gronkowski had five catches for 67 yards and a touchdown of his own. Tom Brady, despite throwing a pick 6 to Bills defensive back Jordan Poyer, finished 21 for 28 passing with 228 yards and two touchdowns. He had a passer rating of 106.8. The defense also chipped in with six sacks, including 2.5 from linebacker Marquis Flowers.
In a game where incorrect officiating would have cost them four points, the Patriots needed every ounce of those contributions. Eventually, however, their luck could run out and they might encounter officials who don’t do their jobs properly.
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ThatDaveBrown.

Note: An earlier version of this story identified Bills coach Sean McDermott by the wrong first name.