It’s hard to play in the NFL on the road and even harder when that road trip is in the stadium of a division rival. Yet for three times a year teams face their enemies on foreign turf. Playing against one of the best teams in the NFL for the past two decades makes it even harder. Of course you can prepare for a team and game plan for a chance at victory. You can even prepare for the weather curve ball that Mother Nature throws at you on a whim. What you can’t prepare for is bad officiating.
Yesterday the officiating was bad. No, it wasn’t bad it was downright atrocious. While there is no guarantee that New England wouldn’t have won yesterday’s game without the penalties as Miami did just fine shooting themselves in the foot, it is safe to say that the penalties did make it much easier.
First there comes the first half 21 yard pass interference on Jimmy Wilson. The 3rd and six play extended into Miami territory from the New England 46 placing the ball at the Miami 33. Six plays later New England kicked a field goal to get on the board before half-time. The problem? Jimmy Wilson was in better position on the play than the intended receiver and played the ball perfectly. The referee who was on top of the play never threw the flag but the line judge across the field who was much further away from the play did. It was clearly a non-PI.
The Dolphins managed to overcome the poor call and kept the Patriots to a FG but that would not be the case when the 2nd half began.
Most in the media and fans at home will tell you everything changed with the Caleb Sturgis missed FG on Miami’s first possession of the 2nd half. It definitely changed the momentum but the refs were not quite done yet.
After two big series for New England (which is where Miami lost both the lead and any confidence they had) the game would be tied 17-17 following two NE TD’s in the span of about two minutes. Miami seemed to be ready to get some of their steam back when other factors took the game over once and for all.
Still tied at 17 late in the 3rd quarter Tom Brady threw a deep pass to TE Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski was in triple coverage and the ball was batted down. As the Dolphins began to leave the field a flag was thrown and Dimitri Patterson was called for holding on the play. The Patriots would end the 3rd quarter with a field goal to give them a 20-17 lead.
On the next Patriot drive following a Ryan Tannehill interception (Wallace needs to learn to fight for balls) the Patriots faced a first down and 10 from their own 36 yard line when Paul Soliai was flagged for illegal hands to the face. Unfortunately replay showed Soliai’s head being shoved up and back with a hand to his face which wasn’t called. The Pats moved up five yards. Hardly critical at the time but it moved the ball out to the 41. Then several plays later with the Patriots driving all hell broke loose.
QB Tom Brady was sacked and stripped of the ball. The ball landed in front and to the left of DE Olivier Vernon who reached for the ball brushing it with his fingertips. The ball shot about 15 yards downfield where the Patriots recovered but a flag on Vernon for illegally batting the ball brought the ball back to the original line of scrimmage and then five yards forward and was an automatic first down. The call itself has been highly contested and debated by both fans and media but truth is it’s too hard to tell if Vernon deliberately attempted to push the ball away from a Patriot player.
Replays of the video are rather inclusive given the fact that Vernon did not punch at the ball and was fully extended when his hand reached for it. Intentional or not the call was not warranted. Even in full speed it is impossible to see any deliberate of malicious intent to swat the ball downfield. Had it been clear then it would have been the right call but nothing supports than visually. In other words it’s a case of interpretation by the referee who threw the flag and it changed the outcome of the game.
With a new set of downs and not facing a 3rd and 35 Tom Brady easily led his team into the endzone for a ten point lead with six minutes left. At that point it appeared the Dolphins gave in and said forget it. They didn’t play with much passion or determination after the face and despite driving down field one last time for a field goal attempt that was blocked the Dolphins seemed destined to lose the game.
Did the referees change the course of the game? They didn’t decide it but they did influence the game by giving the Patriots extra opportunities on very suspect calls. In addition they failed on several occasions to call penalties on the Patriot secondary after clear arm-bar pass interference and holds against Cameron Wake. Regardless in the end, it was the Dolphins that blew the lead giving up 14 points unanswered to allow the Patriots to tie and eventually another ten to put the game away.
Still, it’s interesting to debate the type of influence the referees can have on the outcome or the momentum of a football game with a series of bad calls and bad judgements. There is a time to let the players play the game but that has to be both ways…not just one. Yesterday, it really looked like the Dolphins were playing more than just the Patriots in the 2nd half. They played the Patriots, their own ineptitude, and the guys hired to make sure the game was played fair….at least in part.