FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ offense already was struggling to get going in Monday night’s contest with the Buffalo Bills.

In the third quarter, however, referee Gene Steratore’s crew made a brutal mistake that took a potential breakout play off the board.

On a first-and-10 from New England’s own 31-yard line, quarterback Tom Brady scrambled to his right to keep a pass play alive and hit wide receiver Danny Amendola with a pass just before he stepped out of bounds. Amendola hauled in the pass and took off for the end zone.

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The play could have resulted in a touchdown, but the side judge inexplicably blew his whistle before Amendola caught the pass, perhaps believing Brady had stepped out of bounds.

He hadn’t.

After the refs conferred to come up with some plausible explanation, Steratore told an incensed Gillette Stadium crowd that his crew indeed had blown an inadvertent whistle.

The good news was that Amendola got credit for the 14-yard reception, and the Bills’ sideline was hit with a 15-yard interference penalty on top of that. The bad news, however, was New England’s drive stalled inside Buffalo territory, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski shanked a 54-yard field-goal attempt (his first miss of the season) to leave the Patriots empty-handed.

We can’t say for sure whether Amendola would have scored on the play, but judging by this screenshot, we like his chances.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) tries to get past Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (55) during the first half at Gillette Stadium.