This was a night Roger Goodell dreams about.
Only, it turned into a nightmare as the NFL’s subpar officiating got yet another airing from coast to coast in a signature game.
There was a national TV audience watching on a beautiful December night. The stage was the house of the man who largely put Goodell in the NFL commissioner’s job, Robert Kraft. And the NFL had one of its showcase matchups primed for an unforgettable night of football.
On one sideline was the reigning league MVP, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. On the other sideline was perhaps the greatest at the position, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who is looking for, maybe, one last season in the New England sun.
Just last season, Mahomes and Brady locked into two phenomenal games: A 43-40 Patriots victory at Gillette Stadium and the classic 37-31 New England overtime win in the AFC championship game that set the stage for their sixth Super Bowl title.
Mahomes-Brady III promised more of the same.
And then Jerome Boger and his crew happened, and the league was right smack back in the middle of its 2019 black eye — terrible officiating that doesn’t come close to doing the play on the field justice.
Instead of everyone talking about how Mahomes and the Chiefs broke through with a 23-16 victory against their AFC East nemesis, much of the water cooler chats on Monday morning will be about incompetent officiating that likely robbed everyone of overtime.
“It was tough,” Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. “That’s a really good team, and obviously those plays and those touchdowns that we thought we had, we obviously could have used against a really good team. … We felt like we had a chance to win, and this one was tough. This is probably one of the toughest losses.”
In the biggest moments, the officials:
A) Blew a play dead in which Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore picked up a fumble and had a chance to score — even though the officials are told to let close plays like that go and let replay correct them if needed;
B) Ruled Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry was out of bounds at the 3 on a touchdown that would have made it a three-point game with most of the fourth quarter to play (another play in which giving the score would have allowed replay to overturn or confirm it). They also missed a blatant block in the back by Julian Edelman that would have negated the play;
C) Didn’t call pass interference when Patriots receiver Phillip Dorsett was tackled by Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller trying to catch the ball at the Kansas City 4 with 3:25 to play that perhaps would have forced overtime.
Those were just the big plays.
Boger’s crew threw 20 penalty flags and had multiple conferences to decide what was and wasn’t a foul. The Chiefs had 10 penalties accepted against them for 136 yards, the Patriots five for 25 yards.
It was bad officiating all the way around.
“Those things are give and take, it’s all part of the human element of the game,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “Whether you agree with it or don’t agree with it, it all works its way out.”
Of course, that’s easy to say when you emerge with a victory. In the other locker room, Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn’t too chatty on the topic.
“Obviously, we’ve got to do some things better than we did them tonight,” he said. “It just wasn’t quite good enough under the circumstances in the game. There’s no point in talking about those.”
Instead of talking about how Mahomes with a full complement of weapons outplayed Brady and his punchless offense, how the Patriots’ defense shut down the Chiefs in the second half to set the stage for a comeback, and how the Patriots have dropped all three of their top-notch matchups in the second half of the season to the Ravens, Texans and Chiefs while falling behind an average of 23-8 … everyone will be talking about the NFL’s inept officiating. Again.
It’s a nightmare that Goodell can’t shake, even on his best nights.
Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @GregABedard on Twitter.