— Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said little about the officiating following his team’s 22-21 Wild Card loss to the Tennessee Titans, but the few words he did say spoke volumes about what he thought of a series of controversial calls that went against his team.
“I can’t go there,” Reid said. “Everything I say, those guys are protected. You go talk to them. Question them.”
The explanations from referee Jeff Triplette, however, probably won’t satisfy Reid.
One play before Titans’ kicker Ryan Succop booted a 49-yard field, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson darted through the line and drilled quarterback Marcus Mariota for a 9-yard loss. Replays clearly showed the ball loose before Mariota hit the ground, and linebacker Justin Houston seemed to make a clear recovery.
But officials ruled Mariota’s forward progress had stopped before the fumble. Judgements involving forward progress cannot be reviewed. Video replays seemed to confirm that the ball came loose well before Triplette blew his whistle and signaled the play dead.
“The defender hit him and he was driving him back,” referee Jeff Triplette tersely describe the ruling.
Johnson found little sense in the call.
“I don’t know how you can call a guy down or blow the whistle when the didn’t hit the ground yet, especially on a sack,” Johnson said.
Quarterback Alex Smith agreed with what he saw from replays on the sideline.
“I don’t know how you blow a whistle on that Derrick Johnson one, ” Smith said. “I mean he came in about as fast as you can come and then hits him, and before he goes to the ground the whistle blows.”
Succop this the field goal, cutting the Chiefs’ lead to 14-3. Kansas City scored before halftime, however, extending their advantage to 21-3.
The Titans rallied in the second half, however, with Mariota connecting with wide receiver Eric Decker for a 22-yard touchdown pass. That put the Titans up 22-21, preparing for a two-point conversion.
Mariota dropped back to pass and safety Daniel Sorensen quickly wrapped up Mariota at the 15-yard line. The quarterback tried to escape Sorensen’s grasp and spun around twice before losing control of the ball near the 25-yard line. Linebacker Frank Zombo eventually scooped and the ball and raced to the end zone. A defensive score on a two-point conversion awards two points to the defense. The Chiefs scored on a similar play last season when Eric Berry returned an interception on a two-point conversion against Atlanta.
But the officials again ruled Mariota down due to the stop of his forward progress. On this play,
“(Sorensen) turned him around once and turned him around a second time and kept driving him back,” Triplette said. “You just rule forward progress that that point. Play is over.”
Sorensen said he did not see what happened to the ball while bringing down Mariota.
“I saw him get rid of the ball, turned my head and didn’t rebound,” Sorensen said. “I lost it. I didn’t get a chance to see it. There is nothing you can do about it. Just take it for what it was.”
The Chiefs thought they had snatched a miracle win from the jaws of defeat as the Titans looked to run out the lock. Cornerback Marcus Peters hit running back Derrick Henry and the ball popped loose. Johnson recovered the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. But a replay review showed Henry down before the ball came loose, and the play officials overturned the call.
“You can see on the last fumble that it was probably the right call,” Johnson said.
The 13-year veteran, however, refused to blame the officials for the loss.
“If you’re good enough, you come out with that win,” Johnson said.
Titans head coach Mike Mularkey sided with the officials after the game.
“I thought they did a good job of making the right calls,” Mularkey said. “I’m critical of them a lot but the times that there were critical calls, they got it right and I’ll give them credit for that.”
But Reid, however, remained seething.
“I don’t really have anything good to say there so I’m just going to stay away from any comments about those guys or I’ll get fined,” Reid said. “It’s not worth it.”