Reimer: Ridiculous conspiracy theory about referees fixing games for Patriots gains traction after Titans win

Alex Reimer
January 14, 2018 - 12:14 pm

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL appears to be cognizant of the sprouting notion its officials are fixing games for the Patriots. The proof was on display in the third quarter of the Patriots’ Divisional Round beatdown over the Titans, when Tony Romo clarified his remarks regarding Gillette Stadium’s game clock. At the end of the first half, it appeared as if the clock was frozen at “one second” after Danny Amendola had caught a pass over the middle of the field, allowing him to call a timeout. Romo, like others who were watching, pointed out the apparent error. 

But shortly thereafter, Romo walked back his glib observation. “The NFL –– they control (the game clock),” he said. “So it’s never the home town team. It’s a very neutral person. They do a great job with that. I don’t want anyone thinking there was a joke there. So New England had nothing to do with that. I thought they got it off the right way, anyway.”

The Patriots did not need any help in their 35-14 walloping of the Titans Saturday. Tom Brady made the naysaying peanut gallery look foolish, throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns. But early on, New England benefited from some favorable calls –– like it has for the bulk of the season. 

The idea that the NFL, which suspended Brady four games for slightly deflated footballs, would fix any result in the Patriots’ favor is laughable. That hasn’t stopped the idea from spreading, however. The New York Post ran with the angle Sunday, meaning the silly conspiracy theory is now out in the mainstream. 

Two crucial calls went against the Titans early in the Saturday’s contest. With the game tied at seven in the second quarter, Tennessee appeared to move the chains on third down, when receiver Eric Decker came down with a key catch. Cornerback Malcolm Butler slipped on the play. Even though it’s apparent Butler fell on his own, Decker was whistled for offensive pass interference. The Titans were forced to punt, and the Patriots scored a touchdown to go up 14-7 on the ensuing possession. 

"That one, I won’t even talk about. That one goes down in history," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of the play, per WEEI’s Ryan Hannable.

The other questionable decision came later in the second quarter, when the Patriots were punting deep in their own end. Geneo Grissom flinched prior to the snap, prompting the umpire to call a “false start.” But the call was reversed moments later, when the line judge determined one of Tennessee’s defensive players jumped into the neutral zone first. The Patriots were gifted a first down and scored another touchdown when Brady connected with wideout Chris Hogan in the end zone. New England went up 21-7, and the game was over. 

“You're the Titans. You make a huge stop, about to the get the ball back probably in Pats territory. Refs make a dumb call. Pats first. Pats score. Game over. That's how quickly horrible officiating changes destinies,” NFL writer Mike Freeman tweeted.

Prior to Saturday, the Patriots were the recipients of three overturned touchdowns in the regular season, with at least one directly impacting the result of a game. In Week 6, Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins appeared to score a touchdown that would’ve trimmed the Patriots’ lead to three in the middle of the fourth quarter. But he lost control of the ball after hitting the pylon, and the officials determined it was a fumble and a touchback. 

Two former NFL vice presidents of officiating, Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, said the score should have stood. 

The most consequential reversal came in Week 15, when Steelers tight end Jesse James did not –– say it together now –– “survive the ground.” According to the rulebook, it was the proper call. But that didn’t stop the Steelers from complaining. 

The Patriots benefitted from another reversal the following week, when Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s touchdown grab was wiped out in the Patriots’  37-16 win over Buffalo.

Officiating is bad across the league, and the Patriots aren’t the only team to benefit from the referees’ incompetence. The Titans, ironically, advanced past the Chiefs last week, partially because of some contested rulings

But common sense likely won’t prohibit this conspiracy from gaining traction. Controversy follows the Patriots at every turn.