Getting AFC Championship Game’s Last Call Right Shouldn’t Let Dreadful NFL Officiating off the Hook

The Kansas City Chiefs are moving on and the Cincinnati Bengals are going home in no small part because of highly questionable NFL officiating decisions.

Getting AFC Championship Game’s Last Call Right Shouldn’t Let Dreadful NFL Officiating off the Hook

NFL officiating, take a bow. You managed to get #NFLRigged trending on Twitter — and you only have yourselves to blame after a series of decisions that helped decide an AFC Championship Game for the ages.

NFL Officiating Mars Great AFC Championship Game

The greatest rivalry going in the NFL had just ended, and as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce taunted the Cincinnati Bengals on national TV, Joseph Ossai sat on the bench and sobbed.

Ossai seemed to realize that his life had just forever changed. A decision that took a split-second to make will haunt him for decades to come.

Ossai’s late hit on a scrambling Patrick Mahomes on the game’s final offensive play almost certainly cost the Bengals their season. Kansas City needed the extra 15 yards to turn a near-impossible field-goal attempt into a relatively routine kick for Harrison Butker.

Butker’s 45-yard attempt cut through the cold Missouri air and split the uprights, giving the Chiefs a 23-20 victory and a third trip to the Super Bowl in four years.

“Burrowhead my ass!” Kelce screamed into Tracy Wolfson’s microphone as she was trying to interview Mahomes. “It’s Mahomes’ house!”

MORE: Bengals vs. Chiefs Takeaways as KC Clinches Super Bowl Berth

What Kelce might have lacked in tact, he more than made up for in accuracy. Mahomes is still the NFL’s boss, and no three-game losing streak to Cincinnati can significantly change that.

But Mahomes, Kelce, and the rest of the Chiefs must know they probably wouldn’t be heading to the desert for the Andy Reid Bowl without a major assist from NFL officiating.

The calls Sunday were as one-sided as they were shaky.

And just because they got the last one right — Mahomes was clearly out of bounds when Ossai shoved him in the back — doesn’t mean they didn’t mangle about a half dozen others, including two in the game’s final minute.

The Chiefs’ final drive should have begun at their own 9 — which, considering they took possession with a half-minute left, would have almost certainly meant overtime.

Instead, they missed two pretty clear blocks in the back — including one by Joshua Williams — that helped spring Skyy Moore for a 29-yard return.

Instead of being backed up in their own end, the Chiefs started near midfield — but still needed help from the officials to win.

That’s because Mahomes’ gutsy run — and the boneheaded mistake by Ossai — should have never counted. Mahomes, on one good leg, was able to slip free of contain in no small part because tackle Orlando Brown held Trey Hendrickson — a rule violation the officials either didn’t see or didn’t care to enforce.

In a more equitable world, the Chiefs would have had to replay 3rd-and-4 at the Bengals’ 47 with eight seconds left.

Instead, they were given the chance to win the game — a chance Butker seized with a clutch kick.

“You don’t make it about one play,” Zac Taylor told CBS after the game. “There were plenty of plays left on the field that could have put us in better position.”

That’s fair. The Bengals had the ball with the game tied late and couldn’t convert.

They could have certainly benefited from an extra down on that drive — like the one the officials bizarrely gave the Chiefs earlier in the second half. An apparent third-down stop never happened as an official blew a whistle no one heard.

The league is very, very fortunate that the NFL officiating decision didn’t decide the game. The Chiefs didn’t get points on that possession. But it absolutely was kerosene on the bonfire for those in Cincinnati who believed the fix was in.

Every big call seemed to go against the Bengals Sunday, including some ticky-tack flags thrown in the defensive backfield.

There was next to no trust in NFL officiating among fans and even many players entering Sunday’s game. And that credibility gap grew a bit more with how this one played out.

In closing, three things can simultaneously be true:

  1. The Chiefs were, on this day, the (slightly) better team.
  2. Ossai screwed up big-time and deserved to be flagged.
  3. The playing field was uneven because of the actions of the officials.

Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast

Listen to the PFN Dolphins Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Dolphins Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Dolphins Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.

Adam Beasley is Pro Football Network’s Director of Original Content and Brand Development. You can read all of Adam’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @AdamHBeasley.