With the Kansas City Chiefs leading the Texans by a touchdown in the second quarter of Sunday’s game, quarterback Patrick Mahomes drove his team to the edge of the red zone, only to throw it to Houston safety Tashaun Gipson in the end zone. However, officials flagged cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. for tossing tight end Travis Kelce to the ground before the throw; Mahomes had only thrown deep because he knew he had a free play. The Chiefs lined up on the Houston 23, and that’s when things got weird.
Officials picked up the flag before Kansas City could run a play. After a brief huddle, referee Shawn Hochuli announced “the contact that was potentially a hold was while the ball was in the air; it is not pass interference, because it was not on the receiver that caught the ball.” The pick stood, to the anger of the Chiefs. The Texans went on to put together a 12-play, 80-yard drive to score a touchdown, then scored another at the end of the second quarter to take a 23-17 halftime lead. This segment from the Football Night in America crew explains the sequence:
As reported by Pro Football Talk, there was no replay review on the play, yet officials overturned their own call anyway. Video of the huddle clearly shows an official touching his earpiece before announcing the call, which means he may have received a call from a replay official or some other person who has access to the headsets worn by the officiating crew for these sorts of unofficial replay reviews. The correct call would have been defensive holding, which would have resulted in a first down on the 27-yard line, but whoever called in the review believed that Kelce was mugged after Mahomes had launched his throw (which wasn’t intended for the tight end).
The Chiefs did not lose solely because of this penalty fiasco—they committed 11 penalties, Mahomes’s ankle wasn’t right, and the defense was once again a sieve—though this play did swing the end of the first half. The Chiefs managed just one more scoring drive after that, and they lost by seven points. The NFL continues to come up with new ways to derail games.