The Patriots are locked into a tight game with the Bills, tied 10-10 in the third quarter. But that scoreline might’ve been very different, if not for an enormous refereeing blunder.
On first-and-ten from the New England 31 just after halftime, Tom Brady rolled right and completed a pass to Danny Amendola. But as the ball was in the air, a referee blew his whistle, perhaps thinking Brady had stepped out of bounds as he threw (though he was a good yard inbounds still).
According to NFL rules, the down should’ve been replayed (emphasis mine):
(n) when an official sounds his whistle while the ball is still in play, the ball becomes dead immediately;
(i) If the ball is in player possession, the team in possession may elect to put the ball in play where it has been declared dead or to replay the down.
(ii) If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a fumble, backward pass, or illegal forward pass, the team last in possession may elect to put the ball in play at the spot where possession was lost or to replay the down.
(iii) If the ball is a loose ball resulting from a legal forward pass, a free kick, a fair-catch kick, or a scrimmage kick, the ball is returned to the previous spot, and the down is replayed.
But after reviewing the play, the referees decided that the inadvertent whistle—which can clearly be heard prior to Amendola’s catch—came as Amendola caught the ball, so it was ruled dead at the spot of the catch, a 14-yard pickup. Throw in a 15-yard flag Rex Ryan picked up on the play for sideline interference (you can spot him walking in front of an official as Brady throws), and the Patriots got the ball on Buffalo’s 40. They could only advance four more yards, however, and Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal wide right.
Both teams have legitimate grievances here. As Amendola caught the ball, there was nobody immediately in front of him and he might’ve taken it to the house, though to be fair, the cornerback covering him stopped playing as he heard the whistle. And as for the Bills, it seems that the referees compounded their error by misapplying the rule book, and gave the Patriots 14 yard they shouldn’t have.