EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jamal Adams could barely speak.
The rookie safety finally got a taste of the emotional intensity of the Jets-Patriots rivalry. And he now was furious.
“Man, that call was unreal. I don’t even wanna talk about it,” Adams said, shaking his head, inside the Jets locker room. “Unreal.”
Down the hall, within the bowels of MetLife Stadium, a much different take was being offered in the aftermath of a confusing finish.
“I mean, any time something benefits you, you’re going to love the call. I love that call,” squealed Patriots safety Duron Harmon.
Controversy seems to follow the New England Patriots wherever they go. From Spygate to Deflategate, to the countless close calls and easy breaks in between. And Sunday was no different.
The Patriots clawed their way back from a double-digit first-half deficit to eke out a 24-17 victory against the much-improved Jets. But the true dagger wasn’t delivered by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady or their Amherst-born tight end Rob Gronkowski. No, this crushing Jets’ defeat came courtesy of none other than the officiating crew.
With 8:31 remaining, Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins hauled in a short Josh McCown pass while blanketed by Harmon and cornerback Malcolm Butler near the goal line. Running down the left sideline, Seferian-Jenkins then reached forward with the ball to break the plane of the end zone. The initial ruling was a 4-yard touchdown, a score that pulled the Jets to within 24-20 and reenergized the stadium crowd. But following a review, the call was later reversed and changed to a touchback.
Senior vice president of NFL officiating Al Riveron made the call in New York. And after the game, referee Tony Corrente tried to make sense of the game-changing call with a convoluted explanation for the ages.
Essentially, Corrente explained, the call on the field was a catch, which turned the tight end into a runner. Seferian-Jenkins then lost control of the ball, recovered it, lost control again and recovered the ball out of bounds.
In short: The Jets got cheated.
The team that introduced the NFL to the "ButtFumble" in 2012, had now been robbed by the "WhatFumble." (Credit the New York tabloid reporters for that one.)
Say what you want about the rules being the rules or that the outcome of the game didn’t solely rest on one play. But even if you despise the Jets, deep down you know as well as I do that the reversal was a horrible call.
Need more proof? How about two former vice presidents of NFL officiating — Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino — said the Jets’ late touchdown should have stood.
Bragging rights and first place in a wide-open AFC East division were on the line Sunday, as both teams entered the game with 3-2 records. But it was the Patriots who were lucky to leave MetLife Stadium victorious.
“It was pretty obvious,” Corrente said, adding that the reversal had “nothing to do with the catch. It was all dealing with goal line and going to the ground.”
But if it was so “obvious,” why did he need more than 600 words to explain how the officials came to their decision? And if it was so “obvious,” why were so many players left wondering what just happened?
“I didn’t understand it. I was just pissed off,” said Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley, whose 31-yard TD catch put them up 14-0 with 12:18 left in the second quarter.
“I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to look back and say that was a B.S. call,” teammate Jermaine Kearse added in a somber room filled with stunned silence and dejected faces.
In the winners’ locker room, however, Patriots players weren’t interested in hearing about luck.
“We got the call and that’s all that matters,” said Butler, who reached in to knock the ball loose from Seferian-Jenkins’ grip.
“If it works, and it’s going to help us, who wouldn’t be for that call,” Harmon, a Rutgers alum, said with a smile. “That’s the rules. It’s a testament to how we play football. Everybody hustles to the ball, we don’t give up no plays, everybody tries to swarm tackle and that’s what it was. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Meanwhile, the man at the center of the controversial call, Seferian-Jenkins, surprisingly took the high road.
And give the embattled tight end credit for that.
Rather than toss the referees under the bus — where they belonged — he instead shouldered the responsibility for the momentum-stealing play.
“I let my team down in that situation,” Seferian-Jenkins said in an almost zen-like state. “I feel like I scored, but at the end of the day, that’s what the ref called. … I don’t think it does anything for me to blast the rule or anything like that. If I catch the ball and I run through both of them, and I stand up and I don’t fumble or anything like that, then that’s what it is. I didn’t feel like I fumbled, but it is what it is.”