NFL Referee Explains Why Controversial Patriots False Start Penalty Was Changed

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FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots proved they are a better football team than the Tennessee Titans with a 35-14 win Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. But that didn’t stop some fans from complaining about the defending champs benefiting from an overturned false start penalty that helped extend a scoring drive.

The Patriots were lined up to punt with 6:32 remaining in the second quarter. The Titans likely would have had good field position with a chance to tie the score at 14 before getting the ball again to begin the second half.

Pats long-snapper Joe Cardona appeared to bob his head before snapping the ball, and Titans safety Brynden Trawick jumped into the neutral zone as a result. The original penalty was a false start on New England, but the officiating crew ended up changing the call to a neutral zone infraction on Tennessee, giving the Patriots enough yardage for a first down.

After the game, referee Ron Torbert explained his crew’s decision to change the false start call to a penalty on the Titans.

“The line judge saw a defensive lineman jump into the neutral zone, did not see the guard across from him move,” Torbert said, via a pool reporter. “The umpire saw the guard move and threw his flag for a false start, which is what we initially announced. When we got together and discussed it and pieced together that the defensive lineman across from the guard jumped in the neutral zone and caused the false start, that’s when we changed the ruling from a false start to a neutral zone infraction.”

The Patriots, as they often do, took advantage of the second chance and completed a 91-yard scoring drive, capped by a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wide receiver Chris Hogan. The score put the Pats up 21-7, making it very tough for the Titans to pull off an upset.

New England had the third-best penalty differential at home during the regular season, and the Patriots played Saturday’s divisional-round matchup at Gillette Stadium because they led the AFC with a 13-3 record, earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as a result.

Favorable calls seem to go the home team’s way more often than not, and that’s one of many reasons why securing home-field advantage is so important.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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