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Yes, the Patriots were robbed by the officials. Of more concern: their anemic offense

Kimberley A. Martin
Senior NFL writer

The boos rained down from on high, a deafening din of discontent from a fan base that had seen enough. Or better yet, not enough.

The lopsided score sent them spiraling into a sea of despair, the display of offensive futility left them irate beyond words.

And, to think, it was only halftime.

Offensive ineptitude is a trait often found in locations like Florham Park and Miami, not in New England, where Super Bowl appearances are an expectation now, not a pipe dream. Not with Bill Belichick patrolling the sideline. Not with Tom Brady commanding the huddle. 

And yet, here the Patriots were, searching for an identity, struggling to find offensive cohesion, struggling to put up points in two full quarters of work. 

But it wouldn't take long before the fans' ire shifted from Brady and his out-of-sync offense to the bumbling performance of the game's officials

In the end, it wasn't Brady's awkwardness in the pocket that was to blame for a second straight Patriots loss. Nor was it the uneven play of his beleaguered receivers that resulted in their 21-game home winning streak being snapped. Shockingly, the team that seems to get more breaks than any other NFL franchise, got robbed by the officials.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeals to down judge Patrick Holt that wide receiver N'Keal Harry had scored a touchdown in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Harry was ruled out of bounds before he crossed the goal line. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Give Kansas City its due for escaping Gillette Stadium with a hard-fought 23-16 victory. And credit cornerback Bashaud Breeland for making a heads-up defensive play in the end zone to not only help clinch the win, but also the Chiefs' fourth straight AFC West title.

But make no mistake: The Patriots were done in by those paid to police the game. 

And this year's version of New England isn't built to overcome its own offensive shortcomings, along with poor showings by the officials.

Things have become so disastrous, so bleak in New England that six Super Bowl rings weren't enough to shield Brady from those early boos from the home crowd. With each stalled drive, the crowd grew more restless, more frustrated, more angry. But the Patriots' anemic offense had cobbled together just enough big plays to keep afloat in their rematch of last season's AFC title game.

There were trick plays that kept Kansas City guessing, a physical red-zone play that resulted in another score, a well-timed, desperately needed blocked punt (their fourth of the season) and even a blazing Brady hoofing his way downfield for a 17-yard gain. And when it mattered most, the Patriots were still alive late in the fourth quarter.

That is, until the momentum was stolen from the home team. Not once, but twice.

Had an official's whistle not negated what would have been a Patriots' scoop-and-score TD off a Chiefs' fumble in the fourth quarter, the final score would have been different. And had that terrible decision by the officiating crew not cost New England its final timeout, Belichick would have been able to throw the challenge flag on the ensuing drive after his rookie receiver N'Keal Harry was inexplicably ruled out of bounds before scoring. Without the ability to review the call, the Patriots eventually settled for a field goal. 

Asked to explain the call on the overturned Harry TD, referee Jerome Boger said after the game: "The covering official on the wing was blocked out by defenders. The downfield official who was on the goal line and looking back toward the field of play had that he stepped out at the 3-yard line. So, they got together and conferred on that. The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the 3-yard line. …Those two officials who were covering it, they look at it in real time."

Boos had again rained down from the stands, but this time Brady (19-for-36, 169 yards) and the offense was not the target of their collective rage.

"You hear cheers. You hear boos. That's part of being in sports," said the Patriots quarterback, who was 10 of 19 for 101 yards with a touchdown and interception during a first half dominated by the Chiefs, 20-7.

What shouldn't be a part of sports? Routine gaffes by officiating crews. 

Each week brings another game in which referees become a footnote to the action. While drama involving the New Orleans Saints has become a recurring theme of NFL football, a furious Brian Flores went off on an official on Sunday after a controversial call resulted in his Dolphins losing to the New York Jets

And, of course, there was Belichick's team. A team that has enough red flags to make its fan base uneasy.

A week after getting bullied by Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans, the Patriots looked to bounce back with an inspired performance at home. But Sunday showed more signs of the same stagnant Patriots offense and raised more questions about their Super Bowl chances. 

It's Week 14 and Brady still looks uncomfortable in the pocket and he still appears not to trust his receivers. Worse, his body language on the field reveals far more than he'd ever divulge at the podium.

And yet, Brady and Belichick almost pulled off the comeback to beat the Chiefs.

Almost.

"It's the National Football League," a predictably terse Belichick said postgame. "Just got to continue to compete, control what you can control."

True. 

But this Patriots team isn't equipped to overcome the mistakes of its own offense, let alone poor calls by the officials.

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