New England Patriots

Dec 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks with an official as they take on the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots certainly didn’t play their best game of the year on Sunday against the Bills, but the officiating wasn’t much of a help either. While it ultimately didn’t decide the game, there were a number of odd calls in key situations that made Sunday afternoon all the more infuriating for Patriots fans.

With the Patriots driving in the second quarter, Mac Jones scrambled to his right and picked up seven yards on a 1st & 10 before going out of bounds. After Jones went out of bounds, Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes reached out and first pushed Jones in the back, when attempted to pull him up by his jersey. Keep in mind this game immediately after the Bills were flagged for a roughing the passer penalty.

A flag was thrown for a late hit, which would have given the Patriots a first down inside Bills territory. However, the flag was then picked up, with the Patriots being flagged when Trent Brown was called for a personal foul in the ensuing scrum. A 30-yard swing resulted in the Patriots punting three plays later.

“What we ruled was, we had contact on the sideline. And after discussion, we determined that it was incidental contact that didn’t rise to a level of a personal foul,” head referee Shawn Smith told ESPN’s Mike Reiss after the game. “There was no second act by the defender in that situation, so we determined there was no foul, based on that action.” Smith didn’t comment on the ensuing call on Brown.

In a perfect world, this excuse makes sense. The contact on Jones wasn’t egregious. Yet the NFL has set a precedent this year of favoring quarterbacks in these sorts of plays. While Hughes’ contact with Jones isn’t violent, it’s hardly ‘incidental’ – he raises his arms and grabs him by the jersey.

Still, some may prefer to see that call reversed, and see the officials less involved in the game. That would be a fair argument, but it makes the following call on Brown all the more questionable. It’s hard to blame a player for being upset after his quarterback was hit late and then the flag was picked up. It’s a poor job of calling the game on the officials’ part.

That idea of penalizing a team for sticking up for it’s quarterback showed up again in the fourth quarter. Jones was hit late sliding after a run by Bills linebacker Matt Milano. Center David Andrews got in Milano’s face after the play, and was called for taunting. The two penalties offset, and instead of the Patriots getting the ball inside Buffalo’s 10 the play stood as just a nine-yard run for Jones.

“After we had the foul for the dead ball personal foul on the Buffalo defender, we had the situation under control and then the New England player got into the face of the opponent and started yelling. So, we had a taunting foul,” Smith told Reiss.

Following that sequence, the game got chippy again. It was another example of the officials not letting players stick up for one another, and not allowing the game to police itself.

Ultimately, these decisions didn’t cost the Patriots the game. They were still 1-of-10 on third down, and didn’t force a single Buffalo punt. But these were two more examples added to the ever-growing list of the headaches of NFL officiating in 2021.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at