Patriots

Patriots on controversial calls in loss to Chiefs: 'A tough pill to swallow'

Patriots on controversial calls in loss to Chiefs: 'A tough pill to swallow'

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick wasn't thrilled. He stood at the podium in the belly of Gillette Stadium, his team coming off of its second consecutive loss, and he was peppered with questions about the officiating. This after he'd said in his opening remarks, "A lot of other circumstances in the game; no point in talking about those."

The officiating queries came anyway.

"You'd have to talk to them about that," he said. "I'm not going to speak for them."

Asked if calls made by Jerome Boger's crew impacted his team's ability to sustain any momentum: "I don't know," he said.

In all, there were 15 penalties called for 161 yards in the game, and penalties were among the calls garnering attention after the fact. But the calls that generated the most buzz in the Patriots locker room weren't penalties. The headliner was the call that took points off the board for Belichick's team early in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady hit rookie N'Keal Harry with a short pass that he took down to the goal line. Diving into the end zone, it appeared as though Harry had scored a touchdown. He celebrated as though he had. Replays showed he remained in bounds. But one official marked him out of bounds at the three-yard line.

The Patriots weren't able to challenge the play — they were out of challenges after losing a pass-interference challenge earlier in the game — and they kicked a field goal three plays later to make the score 23-16.

"We still had a chance to win," Brady said. "Wish we could have scored there at the end."

A touchdown and an extra point would've made the score 23-20, meaning on the final Patriots drive of the game, where they entered deep into Chiefs territory, they would've been able to kick a chip-shot field goal to tie it.

"I thought it was a touchdown," said Harry, who left the game with a hip injury. "I'm pretty sure everybody else thought it was a touchdown. It's something that's out of our control, out of my control.

"It's definitely frustrating, but at the end of the day I was always told to control what I could control. I felt like I did that. I felt like my effort was good. That's all I can give."

ESPN's Mike Reiss, serving as the pool reporter, spoke to Boger after the game about the call.

"What led to it was the covering official on the wing was blocked out by defenders," Boger said. "The downfield official who was on the goal line and looking back toward the field of play had that he stepped out at the three-yard line. So, they got together and conferred on that. The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the three-yard line."

Calling the play a touchdown and then using replay to the crew's advantage — since all scores are reviewed — was not discussed as an option, Boger explained.

"Not really. Those two officials who were covering it, they look at it in real time," he said. "This case was unique in that the guy who would have ruled touchdown had him short. So maybe if that ruling official on the goal line had a touchdown, we could have gotten into that, but he thought that that guy stepped out of bounds. The goal line wasn’t in the play."

The reason the Patriots couldn't challenge the Harry play was because they'd had a challenge fail earlier in the contest. Late in the third quarter, Belichick threw his red hanky when on a third-and-4 play Stephon Gilmore got picked by Travis Kelce, allowing a catch to Sammy Watkins. Watkins was tackled right near the line to gain,  and so Belichick was challenging both the pass interference and the spot of the ball.

The challenge failed, which meant they'd have just one more challenge for the game, even if that next challenge succeeded.

Later in the third quarter, on a third-down pass to Kelce, Devin McCourty punched out the football and Gilmore recovered it quickly with a good deal of open space in front of him. The play was whistled dead.

The Patriots challenged and won. It was a momentum-shifter, but the fact that they had to use their challenge at all — on a play that was clearly fumbled upon review, no guesswork there — bothered the Patriots after the fact.

"It sucks because at the end of the day, we felt like those were plays that were gonna help us change the momentum of the game and put us in a good spot to eventually win the football game," safety Duron Harmon said. "It was taken away from us. I know the refs, they have a hard job. I'm not going to sit here and say obviously  their job is easy. 'Just make a better call, and do this better.' At the end of the day, we all have a job. We all get paid money to do the job and do it well."

Harmon added: "I just feel empty. We played a good team and had a chance to win. We didn't win. Like I said, I'm not going to just sit here and blame the refs. The Chiefs probably feel some calls could've gone their way, didn't go their way, but at the end of the day when you got two touchdowns taken away from you, that's always a tough pill to swallow."

The Patriots finished the game going 1-for-3 in the red zone. They were 3-for-15 on third and fourth down. They averaged — including three sacks — just 4.6 yards per pass. They averaged 3.4 yards per carry in the first half against a defense that was allowing over 5.0 for the season.

There was plenty they could have done to help themselves. But it's not hyperbole to say that final drive — which resulted in a fourth-down pass breakup on a Brady attempt to Julian Edelman — should have been an opportunity for them to tie the game with an easy field goal.

"You don't wanna blame officiating," Harmon said, "because at the end of the day, we still had an opportunity to win."

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Why the Patriots can't wait on Tom Brady's free agent tour

Why the Patriots can't wait on Tom Brady's free agent tour

The Patriots can't handle Tom Brady the way they've handled other high-profile free agents.

The obvious answer why is because Brady is not just another high-profile free-agent-to-be. But it goes deeper than that, deeper than any emotional connection the franchise and fan base have to sport's most accomplished athlete.

The reality is that because of the importance of the position Brady plays, and because of the impact his presence (or absence) will have on Bill Belichick's roster-building approach, the Patriots need to have a plan in place for what they're doing at quarterback well before free agency begins on March 18.

PATIENCE EQUALS RISK

If Brady wants to sign a deal with the Patriots before free agency begins, that's one thing. It'd be a two-way street. It'd be a deal that would satisfy both Brady and the team that was unwilling to give Brady what he hoped for last summer.

But if Brady wants to see what's out there for him in free agency — a desire that was made apparent when he had the 2020 franchise tag option removed from his one-year agreement with the team — then that's where things get complicated.

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Brady could hit free agency for the first time in his career. He could make whatever visits he wants to organizations outside New England. He could later come back to the Patriots, it's been hypothesized, tell them what he's been offered, and negotiate based on that new information. That's what the Patriots have done in retaining cornerstone pieces in the past like Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater.

But Brady is different.

Whether or not the 42-year-old quarterback is back would impact roster-building in a way no other player could.

Will the Patriots want to go on a spending spree in free agency, or sit back and save? Will they want to trade draft picks for veterans, or hang tight and roll the dice with as many selections as possible in late April? The answers to those questions could hinge on whether or not Brady returns.

Waiting for Brady to field offers during the legal tampering period (March 16-17), come back, and then negotiate would open up the Patriots to botching portions of the roster around Brady.

Do they make an offer on a veteran wideout or tight end before they know for sure they have Brady? Do they scramble to get offers in on those types only once Brady's signed? And what are the odds they get what they want if that's their strategy?

For a coach and owner who've built the league's longest-running dynasty with sound business decision after sound business decision, that sounds like more uncertainty than they'd be willing to deal with.

There may be players available dying to play with Brady and under Belichick. But when there is free-agent money at stake, players generally aren't willing to wait around for teams to make up their minds while bags of cash in the form of massive signing bonuses are being lobbed at the feet of their peers.

DÉJÀ VU?

That's why there's a chance Brady's free-agent tour could end up resembling Wes Welker's more than Hightower's or McCourty's.

Before the start of the 2013 season, Welker fielded offers around the league. He had an opportunity to see what his market was for the first time since being traded to New England in 2007. He was one of the league's most productive receivers. That was his right.

But the Patriots had to prepare. They didn't want to go into the next season without a sure thing at one of the most important positions in their offense. They signed Danny Amendola as soon as free agency began, unwilling to wait around on Welker — potentially missing out on other free-agent slot receiver options in the process — only for him to choose someone else.

If certainty at receiver held that kind of value to the Patriots seven years ago, wouldn't the same logic apply to a vastly more important position?

Would the Patriots be willing to wait on a Brady decision as other free-agent quarterbacks like Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater or Philip Rivers went off the board to other clubs?

ESPN's Adam Schefter recently referred back to what happened with Rob Gronkowski last offseason and said the Patriots wouldn't want to be caught in the same position at quarterback that they found themselves in at tight end in 2019.

"Here’s the situation: I don’t believe the New England Patriots are waiting until March 16 to get an answer from Tom Brady," Schefter said on ESPN's "Get Up" program Thursday, referencing the start of the legal tampering period.

"Last year, Rob Gronkowski wound up retiring in late March. I don’t know the conversations they did and didn’t have before, but New England missed the window on free-agent tight ends. So I don’t think they’re going to let Tom Brady go to free agency, all of a sudden, sign with Team X, and then on March 20, say ‘Well, what do we do at quarterback now?’ That’s not the way that organization operates."

The comparison isn't a perfect one. Gronkowski was under contract and had a roster spot waiting for him if he wanted it. Brady isn't signed.

If anything, this time around, the Patriots have much greater control over the situation. If they don't want to get caught flat-footed at the position, they won't.

THE MONEY MATTER

There's another issue that comes into play if the Patriots wait for Brady to see what's out on the market and make his free-agent decision: Dead money.

When Brady's contract was adjusted over the summer, he had cap hits of $6.75 million spread over the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

If Brady is signed by the Patriots before the start of the new league year on March 18, then he'll have just $6.75 million added to whatever salary-cap hit comes with his new contract. If he signs after the new league begins, then $13.5 million hits the Patriots cap in addition to the cap hit associated with his new deal. 

Now play it out. If the Patriots want to get a deal done with Brady but there's uncertainty as to whether or not it gets done before the start of the new league year — perhaps negotiations will drag, perhaps Brady will want time to rack his brain before making a move — that impacts the math of what the Patriots can do elsewhere. 

The salary cap can be maneuvered in a number of different ways — which Belichick himself has acknowledged before — but the Patriots already have the fourth-most dead money counting against their books. Adding $13.5 million to that figure would inhibit how the Patriots can spend in 2020. 

It's yet another reason why the Patriots would like to know what they're doing with Brady before the legal tampering period begins.

We're 53 days away.

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Raiders' Derek Carr knows Tom Brady represents a threat in free agency

Raiders' Derek Carr knows Tom Brady represents a threat in free agency

Derek Carr wins!

On Wednesday, the Las Vegas (it’s official now) Raiders quarterback became the first quarterback to get publicly tender about Tom Brady.

Brady’s much-discussed confab with Raiders owner Mark Davis at the McGregor-Cerrone fight last weekend and subsequent spitballing about Brady as a Raider had Carr sounding huffing with indignation.

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"I mean, there was a lot of quarterbacks at that fight," Carr said to ESPN. "And there was a lot of football players at that fight that are free agents. And it's like, every time, with my job, it's always a story. No matter what. And knowing some people that were around, I even know what the conversation was [between Davis and Brady], and it's like, 'C'mon, man, when's it going to end?'"

Brady’s first foray into free agency creeps closer. There are no concrete indications yet from the Patriots that they will keep him off the market. Brady’s signaled he’s down for whatever.

Almost every team can and will be considered a landing spot for the 43-year-old legend. And that means more quarterbacks will — like Carr — kick against the prick of insecurity that comes with hearing Brady mentioned as an option.

Some may want a verbal commitment ring. Some teams might offer up a vow of fidelity all on their own to protect the fragile, eggshell mind of their still-developing quarterback.

That’s what Buffalo GM Brandon Beane did last month when Tim Graham of The Athletic asked about Brady as a Bill. Beane gingerly praised, sidestepped, avoided all appearance of tampering then added, “I don’t think he wants to be a backup.”

That was no off-handed knock at Brady. It was Beane protecting his third-year quarterback Josh Allen from feeling threatened.

It’s going to be fascinating to find out what Brady’s market really looks like. For example, there’s no debate he’d be better than Allen in 2020. Anyone who witnessed Allen’s scatterbrained effort to “win” that playoff game in Houston would realize that.

But what about 2021 or 2022 when Brady is 44 and 45? What about the investment made so far by the Bills and their coaching staff, not to mention the draft pick spent?  Does it do a team like Buffalo — based in decidedly non-cosmopolitan Western New York — any good to make an overture to Brady if it has no shot at landing him given it could leave Allen shaken?

Dynamics similar to Buffalo exist with the Giants, Jets, Ravens, Browns, Cardinals, Bears, Eagles, Redskins, and Rams. All those teams have a first-round quarterback who's never won a playoff game.

Is it wise for the Redskins and Giants to tiptoe around the feelings of Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones or pursue a couple of years of Brady and all that comes with him in terms of marketing, ticket sales and overwhelming coverage?

Leave Brady and his preferences out of it for a moment. If you own a team, don’t you want your GM active and conversant on every player in the league, especially one as iconic and talented as Brady?

I mean, if Brady signs with the Bengals and Jacksonville GM Dave Caldwell never even made a call to Brady’s agent Don Yee, Caldwell should start packing his bags.

An explanation from Caldwell that he didn’t want to undercut Gardner Minshew wouldn’t really fly.

Brady’s looming availability is a case study for prospective owners, coaches and GMs in determining "what’s best for the football team." Football-wise. Business-wise. Relative to the salary cap. Relative to sales and marketing. For the locker room. For the community.

And especially for the guy who’s in place at the position that Brady’s played better than anyone who’s ever lived.

“(You’d think) everyone would be like, 'Yes, we're going the right way. Everything's getting better ... '" lamented Carr. “You would think that that would be the story. But that's not how it works. And I understand that now," Carr said.

"Especially when people are seen with certain people. It's like, 'Oh, gosh. Well, I was at dinner with [Davis] last night. Does that count for anything?' Golly. It's just funny. But I'm used to it now. But I'll say it this way: I look forward to taking the first snap in that stadium, and I look forward to taking every snap from here on out — until I'm done."

So mark Derek Carr down as the first one to lift his leg and pee on his territory relative to Tom Brady. Who’s next? Teams can't make direct contact with Brady until March 16.

How many will feel compelled to say they don't want the GOAT?

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