An Inadvertent Whistle Probably Cost the Patriots a Touchdown

#Whistlegate has been born.

Referees Huddling Screenshot


This year, Roger Goodell spent millions on an investigation to determine whether the Patriots took a few hisses of air out of footballs in the AFC Championship Game. Next year, the commissioner would be wise to channel those funds towards an inquiry into why his referees are so lousy.

It’s been an embarrassing season for NFL officials—a missed false start penalty that cost the Ravens a game, a blown batted ball call that sunk the Lions last month, allowing 18 seconds to disappear in the Steelers’ Week 5 win against the Chargers—but they may have had their worst moment of the fall in the third quarter of Monday night’s gruesome 20-13 Patriots win over the Bills.

With 14:05 remaining in the period, Tom Brady scrambled to his right for several seconds before connecting with Danny Amendola for what should’ve been a big gain. Amendola beat cornerback Ronald Darby and appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. Except, a referee inadvertently blew his whistle. The play was ruled dead moments after Amendola came down with the catch.

Head referee Gene Steratore didn’t explain why the play was stopped. Instead, he decided to spot the ball dead at the Patriots’ 45-yard line and then flagged Rex Ryan for unsportsmanlike conduct to tack on an extra 15 yards. It was a nice compromise, but hardly makes up for almost certainly stripping the Patriots of a touchdown.

Stephen Gostkowski missed a 54-yard field goal attempt to close out the drive and then the Bills followed with a touchdown of their own to tie the game up at 10. The ill-timed whistle resulted in a seven-point swing and nearly cost the Patriots their perfect season.

“The official lost track of the football and blew his whistle inadvertently. That’s a mistake,” said NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino following the game.

The accidental whistle wasn’t the only apparent error the referees made Monday night. On the final play of the game, Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins appeared to step out of bounds with two seconds remaining after making a catch. But the clock was never stopped and the game ended abruptly.

In the words of ESPN play-by-play man Mike Tirico, it was another “screwed up night of plays and officiating” in the NFL. Once again, the men wearing stripes were the story instead of the players. For a league that generates an estimated $12 billion of revenue per year, that’s simply unacceptable.