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Potential Pats TD play spoiled by inadvertent whistle

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Add another grievance to the NFL's year of officiating controversies.

In the New England Patriots' 20-13 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, there was a premature whistle debacle the likes of which we have not seen.

One official blew an inadvertent whistle with Tom Brady rolling toward the sideline and lofting a pass to an open Danny Amendola with nothing but 55 yards of open prairie land and one downfield defender between the wide receiver and the end zone.

The whistle -- blown while the pass was in the air -- might have helped Amendola separate from coverage, but he appeared to have his man beat a split-second before the play was blown dead.

While it's far from guaranteed that Amendola would have scored on the play, his punt-return skills certainly would have made it interesting with a downfield blocker available.

Referees gave the Patriots 14 yards based on where Amendola was when he caught the ball and also assessed Buffalo with a 15-yard penalty for sideline interference from the Bills' coaching staff.

After consulting with coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the officials, Gene Steratore awarded the Patriots the ball at the spot of Amendola's catch -- good for a 14-yard gain.

"I think as the quarterback started to get near the sideline and press the line judge (Gary Arthur) ... I think as Tom [Brady] released the football, the line judge lost track of maybe where the ball was at that point and almost by its own definition, inadvertently blew the whistle," Steratore said after the game.

Steratore also said that on-field officials found that "the whistle came a little later after the ball was thrown, so we felt that the receiver had possession at the time of the whistle, so basically we went to that spot, which we determined was about the 45-yard line."

Dean Blandino, the NFL vice president of officiating, spoke about the play on NFL Network's Total Access after the game.

"That's a mistake and the whistle shouldn't have been blown," he said. "You're wondering why it happened, but once it did happen, I thought the crew did a good job assessing what happened."

With the partisan crowd in an uproar, Belichick proceeded to wave his arms in a downward fashion and mouth instructions to "shut up" so his offense could forge on.


Brady went on to manage just four more yards on the drive, leaving Stephen Gostkowski with an errant 54-yard field-goal attempt in the swirling wind.

Still, it wasn't the only call to generate controversy during the game.

On the final play during the closing seconds, Bills receiver Sammy Watkins made a catch before quickly falling backwards out of bounds in an effort to stop the clock. Referees ruled that he was a runner once he gained possession and that he "had given himself up in the field of play" via a judgement call by the head linesman, Steratore said.

"He deemed that the runner gave himself up in the field of play voluntarily, which does put him down by contact in the field, so he wound (the clock)," Steratore said. "The fact that he scoots out of bounds is not as important."

Still, the inadvertent whistle, while certainly not a new phenomenon, drew most of the fans' ire on Monday.

The end result was a human error that likely cost the Patriots points in a tight game.

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