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Blame the refs or blame the NY Jets? It doesn’t really matter

Sauce Gardner, New York Jets
Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, Getty Images

The referees certainly contributed to the New York Jets’ defeat against the Chiefs, but they did not cause it

Set the scene, New York Jets fans:

October 30, 2022, at MetLife Stadium. Jets leading the Patriots 10-3. 0:37 remaining in the second quarter. Patriots have a first and 10 from the Jets 25. Mac Jones drops back and releases a short pass to Tyquan Thornton, which Michael Carter II intercepts. As Carter II picks the ball off and takes off the other way for six, the referee throws a flag. Of course, it’s roughing the passer on John Franklin-Myers. The Patriots score a field goal on that drive to pull within 10-6 and eventually win the game 22-17.

Fast forward almost one year later, and the situation is eerily similar: Carter II gets an interception, and a referee waits until after the interception to throw the flag on a hold against Sauce Gardner. Not only is it a dubious call, but it is a game-changer for the Jets. Perhaps the outcome would not have been as clear as in the first scenario—after all, leading 17-3 going into halftime is quite different from having the ball down 23-20 with roughly four minutes remaining in the game—but both calls could be said to have cost the Jets a good chance to win the games.

The scenario against the Chiefs rang a very familiar bell. It was an aching reminder of all the non-calls the Jets have endured over the years and what could have been for this team in 2022. Most of all, it was a bitter ending to Zach Wilson‘s best game as a pro.

The Jets vs. the refs

In fact, this is the second time in three weeks that the Jets have been on the receiving end of a highly questionable call. Against the Cowboys, Franklin-Myers was called for a roughing the passer penalty that enabled Dallas to pull ahead 18-7 rather than 13-7. That one was so egregious that the NFL actually admitted its mistake, issuing an apology to Robert Saleh and the team.

Recent Super Bowl history

This call against Gardner was also reminiscent of another holding penalty that went the Chiefs’ way—the infamous James Bradberry call in the Super Bowl. Although the back view showed that there was, indeed, a hold on that play (unlike Sauce’s, which was more dubious), there is one very similar element: the referees had been allowing aggressive contact all game, and then, in the pivotal moment, decided that the very same contact warranted a flag.


There will be those who point to the safety and horse-collar tackle as evidence that the luck went both ways. To a certain extent, you can argue that the safety should not have happened, although the Jets would have gotten the ball back in excellent field position. But the moments at which the Chiefs received both critical calls and non-calls far outweighed those that the Jets did.

This is what a future Hall of Fame cornerback had to say about the call on Gardner.

“No, I don’t think it was defensive holding… When you go in one direction and the defender starts to go in that direction with you, and then you change direction suddenly, there should be a little leeway there for everybody to get through the transition,” said Richard Sherman. He also pointed to the timing of the call—the ref waiting until the interception happened to throw the flag—as further evidence that it was a bad call.

Saleh and Gardner were both livid at the call. Saleh kept quiet during the postgame press conference after garnering an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his verbal barrage toward the referees. Gardner had similar sentiments to Sherman.

Sherman also discussed the benefit Patrick Mahomes received on his third-and-22 scramble that extended the Chiefs’ final drive and eventually allowed them to run out the clock.

Jermaine Johnson held his arms up, desperately signaling to the referee that he was being held. No dice. While holding inside of the shoulder pads is legal, that kind of hugging and holding cannot be called legal by even the most forgiving of referees. Johnson explained his level of frustration following the game.

How much does it matter?

Of course, for Jets fans, these calls are infinitely frustrating. This is a team that still hasn’t received the benefit of a roughing the passer call for two consecutive seasons. The NFL just apologized for a brutal call against them.

Still, when it comes down to it, the Jets had opportunities and did not capitalize on them. The defense dug them an early 17-0 hole. C.J. Mosley dropped an easy interception. Tyler Conklin couldn’t come up with a ball in the end zone. Zach Wilson overthrew Garrett Wilson for a surefire touchdown. Michael Carter dropped an easy pass to move the sticks. Greg Zuerlein doinked a 52-yard field goal.

After the offense clawed back to the game at 20, the defense forced a three-and-out on the next drive. The offense got the ball back near midfield but went three-and-out.

Even on the next drive, the defense allowed one first down but then forced a punt, and the Jets got the ball back at their own 15. The very first offensive play was a 43-yard run from Breece Hall that could have been a touchdown if Conklin hadn’t stepped on Hall’s foot. Still, an ineligible man downfield call on Connor McGovern wiped out a 15-yard screen to C.J. Uzomah, and the Jets could not gain another first down.

Of course, everyone will point to the Wilson fumble, and that one stings. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Jets allowed the Chiefs to run out the remaining 7:24 of the clock. That was aided by several calls and non-calls, but nevertheless, the defense could not get it done multiple times on third down.

The Jets gave the Chiefs a valiant effort but came up short. There were too many mistakes that allowed Mahomes to atone for his turnovers.

Does the NFL favor the Chiefs?

There’s a perception out there that the NFL favors the Chiefs and gives them the calls in the key moments. Jets fans dealt with the same pain surrounding the Patriots and Tom Brady for many years. The old adage says, “It’s better to be lucky than good,” and perhaps that’s true.

However, there are also other sayings about luck that may apply more aptly to the Chiefs. This one by Albert M. Greenfield may encapsulate it best: “Luck is an accident that happens to the competent.”

In other words, the best teams tend to be in a position to get lucky more often. While the NFL is much more attributable to luck and chance than many observers (and players) believe, there’s a reason that the teams of dynasties tend to get more calls. Whether you want to call it the halo effect (“a cognitive bias that claims that positive impressions of people, brands, and products in one area positively influence our feelings in another area,” per The Decision Lab) or more opportunities for good luck, there’s a reason it happens to the league’s best teams.

What that says about the Jets is not that they’re cursed—it’s that they’re just not good enough. Fair or unfair, people create their own luck to a large extent. The way to get more calls is to play well, not to moan and complain.

That’s a tough pill for Jets fans to swallow. But for Saleh and the players involved, it should be a wake-up call rather than a “woe is me” moment.

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8 months ago

Zach took a major step forward but I am a little concerned about a pattern that may be emerging where he seems to freeze up when things get easier, not harder. The week before against NE, for example, the Jets were at midfield in the 4th quarter needing a touchdown to win but with plenty of time. It really felt like an OK situation, but Zach did nothing at all and did not even seem to see open receivers. Then, Sunday night, again the Jets were at midfield in the 4th quarter with plenty of time needing just a field goal to tie and Zach not only fumbled but froze staring at the ball before a Chief fell on it. It’s kind of like the way he can make hard throws but not easy throws. I don’t know, the Zach Wilson story is shaping up to be one of the weirdest and most complicated QB development stories in NFL history.

Matt Galemmo
8 months ago

Was that holding call that egregious? It was roughly the same call as the one in the super bowl, which was also universally bemoaned, giving it precedent in a “two wrongs make it right” kind of way.

It was egregious that the flag came out after the interception, several seconds after the supposed foul, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen quite as egregious a hold as what happened to JJ. Two different refs, but one thinks a momentary maybe-he-closed-his-hand-on-his-jersey is a hold while another apparently thinks desperately-hanging-on-to-his-jersey-as-though-he’s-in-a-sylvester-stallone-movie for literally 3-4 seconds is not.

But it was the fumble. Or the ball going through Mosley’s hands. Or the doink. Or Carter dropping the ball right before the doink. Or Wilson doing the easy part better after doing the hard part on a throw to Conklin in the end zone. Any one of those plays makes the game look so different, much more than had the Jets had the ball around their own 30 needing a field goal to tie.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt Galemmo