NFL Referee Explains Why Controversial Patriots False Start Penalty Was Changed

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots proved they are a better football team than the Tennessee Titans with a 35-14 win Saturday night, 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 left 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.

The Patriots long-snapper 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 an automatic first down.

Referee Ron Torbert was asked about the decision to change the false start call to a penalty on the Titans, and here is was he said, via a pool report:

Q: Will you go over the process that brought the crew from the false start penalty to the neutral zone infraction?
Torbert: Sure, the line judge saw a defensive lineman jump into the neutral zone, did not see the guard across from him move. 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 and were awarded homefield 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 earning homefield advantage is so important.