Referees Serve As Executioner: Patriots Embarrass Broncos

Chaz MattsonAnalyst IOctober 21, 2008

A running joke in Denver the last three decades goes something like this: You know who owns the Patriots? It’s not Gillette, it’s the Broncos.

Just as that joke is not all that funny, it has been the ugly truth about the rivalry from these two teams who initially hooked up over 46 years ago in their original AFL matchup. The irony is Denver has historically not fared so well on road Monday night games despite their prior win in Oakland the first game of this season.

While the rest of the league has struggled with the Patriots, the Broncos had gone 5-1 since New England started winning Super Bowls in 2002. One of those Broncos wins against New England was in the Divisional Playoffs in 2005, a game that ended a Patriots run at a three-peat. It is games like that one that sits in the craw of the Chowderheads.

As great as the Patriots' dynasty is over the years, they seemingly have been unable to shake the haunting images of the horsemen dominating them through the years. 

Monday night, it was as if Sleepy Hallow awoke and cast a nasty spell all over again somewhere near Paul Revere way. This time, the haunting spirit fell upon the Broncos, in a way that was saluted by the Patriot muskets and adoring fans score after score. Yes, time after time.

The autumn leaves are changing and crunching underfoot, and the Broncos have been taken to task by a subpar Patriots team by New England standards. Prior to the end of the third quarter, the Pats had the game in hand up 34-0 at home in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. This just one week removed from the Broncos losing a physical heart-breaker at home to Jacksonville and New England being trounced in San Diego 30-3 on Sunday night.

Before Jay Cutler could complete a pass, he had a nagging finger injury that would affect him the rest of the game. Despite Michael Pittman running wild for the white horses, Andre Hall coughed up two fumbles before the team could capitalize, one of them costing the Broncos about 30+ yards of lost field position to boot. The Broncos had five, count them, five sacks before halftime, only to trail 20-0 on the road at the break. An oddity that seems reserved for only the Halloween season.

The game was not played in adverse conditions, nor did the Patriots appear out of the mist. Still, a bizarre spell was cast over the game and the Denver Broncos forgot to bring their officially league-worst defense, as well as one of the league's better offenses.

In the end, the Broncs were treated like the Brits without the tea party. They were met on the battleground and appropriately ambushed and drubbed by the seemingly outmatched Patriots on their home ground.

Although the Broncos wanted to go into their bye week with a victory and a two-and-a-half game lead on the Chargers, there will now be a long two weeks of anticipated re-tooling, practices, reflection, and a time to shake-off the poor play on defense to prepare for the rest of the season. 

For the Broncos, they may have the division lead, but that is all. What’s more is that they have not won key games against AFC opponents, which could leave them on the outside when the playoffs start if they don’t win the AFC West. 

For the Patriots, last year’s flirt with an undefeated destiny has been clearly over since Tom Brady went down in Week One. New England needed this win more desperately than the nation needs the economy to recover. It’s become that bad in Beantown; even the World Series Champion Bo Sox were ousted in Game Seven of the ALCS by the Tampa Rays on Sunday night.

Randy Moss could not be found until Matt Cassel remembered he was on the roster and they were playing a Denver defense that is just plain bad. Without Champ Bailey, who was injured just before the half with a groin injury, the Broncos are even worse. The Pats offense showed just how much worse the defense really is by immediately adding to their total.   

The referees did not lose the game for the Denver Broncos, they just served as the executioner. It is, however, important to document the impact the officiating had on the game, and how it was a catalyst in changing the complexion of the game. The officiating was so poor in the game it made the U.S. economy appear flourishing and thriving.

Give the referees some credit, they stayed out of the way for most of the first quarter. Shortly after Andre Hall lost his second fumble, the referees missed an obvious hold against a New England double team on Elvis Doomerville on a play that saw Champ Bailey knock the ball down, forcing a second field goal from the Pats early in the game.

Later, as the Broncos had to start a drive deep in their own end, the refs just blew it and called a push-off on Brandon Marshall. The replay showed initial contact within the first five yards, initiated by Ellis Hobbs, to break Marshall's pass route. Marshall out muscled the DB and pushed back, causing Hobbs to fall down and he wound up with nearly a 20-yard gain, burning Hobbs.

Just after the late flag was thrown, it was noted with exclamation by the ESPN crew.  Ron Jaworski yelled out in the booth, “Let the guys play!” 

New England eventually got the ball back and Sammie Morris reeled off a big run when Randy Moss was blocking Champ Bailey in the back, albeit briefly, but again no flag was thrown. The next play, a New England lineman is holding Ebenezer Ekuban by his arm, preventing a sack on an eventual incompletion. Two plays later, New England scored a touchdown. 

Here’s the point: The crew, led by rookie referee Alberto Riveron, was able to flag the Broncos again for lining up over the center on the extra point, but they couldn’t throw the flags on the obvious holds going on during the course of the game.

Later, the Broncos are trying to muster a drive when Jay Cutler underthrows Darrell Jackson and the ball is intercepted by Brandon Meriweather. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Jay took a shot to the chest and was obviously taunted by Patriot linebacker Pierre Woods, and no flag for taunting was thrown.

The Broncos put New England in a hole and gave them a new set of downs when linebacker Jamie Winborn face-masked Pats QB Matt Cassel in the end zone. The play would have resulted in an incomplete third-down pass, and the Patriots would have been forced to punt. 

The Broncos officially imploded a few plays later when Ekuban was flagged for unnecessary roughness after a completion for a first down. Matt Light had actually chopped and rolled into Ebenezer Ekuban as he leaped to try and block the pass thrown to his side.

The poor officiating continued in the second half, as a clip on the second-half kick return by the Patriots against the lead tackler Andre Hall of the Broncos was ignored.  Again, a little later on a third-quarter punt return, a clip or block in the back against the Patriots was subsequently waived off. The eminent impact on the game was a second Randy Moss touchdown pass from Matt Cassel.

For many years, the NBA has had incidents of certain officials skewing the game against certain players or teams. The NFL doesn’t need the same sort of problem plaguing the greatest professional sports league. It was just the icing on the cake for one ugly Monday night game that looked more like a lackluster preseason game.

Give the Patriots their due, they are the defending AFC Champions, who nearly had an undefeated season and nearly won their fourth world title last year. They are a different team without Tom Brady; but that question mark was transferred to the Broncos last night with the final score, 41-7.