FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Let's get this out of the way from the start.
The Buffalo Bills on Sunday did not get their usual pummeling from the New England Patriots – this time 37-16 – because the NFL's officiating staff doesn't know a touchdown catch when it sees it.
The rest of us saw Kelvin Benjamin make a spectacular grab in the end zone, which prompted the officials working the game to signal that a TD was scored. The rest of us assumed the Bills would enter halftime with a 17-13 lead. Every Bills player and coach and member of the team's front office saw what the rest of us saw.
But the people in New York that have the power to change what officials and everyone else watching what was going on at Gillette Stadium saw determined that something else occurred, that Benjamin's left foot wasn't touching the ground in the end zone when he gained control of the ball. So they took the touchdown away.
In the process, they took away a whole lot of whatever will the Bills' players had to press on in a game that actually meant less to their playoff fortunes than the one they play next Sunday in Miami.
The Bills still are very much in the running for a wild-card spot, provided they get the help they need. To simplify the scenarios, if the Ravens lose or the Titans and Chargers lose, the Bills are in if they beat the Dolphins.
However, that wasn't the foremost thought in the minds of the players after Sunday's game.
They felt they had been given the screws by the league. They felt that the Patriots were handed a big, fat Christmas gift at their expense.
As defensive end Jerry Hughes walked into the locker room, he said, not in a particularly loud voice but loud enough to be heard by media waiting outside, "Somebody in Boston got the refs. Y'all given them the big money."
Actually, referee Craig Wrolstad and his crew weren't the ones who got it wrong. They got it right. It was Al Riveron, who heads the NFL's officiating department, who ordered the reversal from league headquarters in New York.
And that decision deflated the Bills in a big way.
“It’s crazy, man, because you put so much into it and then to get robbed like that,” running back LeSean McCoy said.
"Yeah, it's some bullbleep," safety Micah Hyde said. "That was crazy, man. I don't understand how the refs called a touchdown. To me, everybody on the sideline, there was not enough evidence to overturn it. It's New England, man. We're in New England.
"I'm not using that as the excuse of why we lost the game. But at the same time, you go into the half with a touchdown, up four, or you go into the half tie game, is a big difference. Especially playing away, a very good opponent like this. Then, we come out in the second half with momentum, able to do something."
Later, Hughes told reporters he was "shocked beyond all means."
"I guess we'll learn after this game what qualifies as a catch in the NFL," Hughes said. "Definitely shocked. I thought KB caught the ball, possessed it and had two feet in. But according to the rule book, they saw something different. I just think for the most part guys were now focused on, 'How are we going to beat the officials? How are we going to get them on our side?' It was a pivotal call in a huge game for us.
"I can certainly feel for everybody on the sideline."
Offensive tackle Jordan Mills just sat in front of his dressing cubicle and shook his head. He was perplexed. He was confused.
He was upset, too, but he seemed to be having a harder time wrapping his mind around something that simply didn't make sense to him.
When a reporter asked him if he knew what a catch was in the NFL, Mills said, "I don't know. Two feet down, drag a foot, control ..." His voice trailed off.
Mills said he never anticipated that the touchdown call would be reversed.
"I don't want to curse right now," he said. "It's their job to call the game and New York to look over things. But that was one of the best catches I've ever seen. Body control and presence of mind (to know) where he's at. That looked good to me."
No one was more surprised by the reversal than Benjamin, who had his first breakout performance as a Bill with five catches for 70 yards.
"Oh, definitely," he said. "The ref said touchdown, so somebody's got to have concrete evidence to overturn it. But there isn't anything you can do about it."
When they entered the dressing room, tied at 13-13 after having to settle for Stephen Hauschka's 23-yard field goal, all anyone could talk about was the reversal. It had each player in a foul mood, complaining to each other, to the coaches, to no one in particular.
Finally, center Eric Wood, one of the team's veteran leaders, stood up in front of his dressing cubicle and addressed the room.
"Just move past it," Wood told his teammates.
The Bills did come out and drive for another Hauschka field goal, from 34 yards, to move in front, 16-13. Wood was proud of the way the team regained focus and moved the ball, although he was disappointed in their failure to get an offensive touchdown, something they couldn't do in either game against the Patriots this season. The only TD they got Sunday was on a pick-six by safety Jordan Poyer.
And Hauschka's second field goal would be their final points as the Patriots proceeded to outscore them, 24-0 (including two Dion Lewis touchdowns, on a pass and a run, in the fourth quarter) the rest of the way.
The Bills aren't going to let this issue die. It is known that General Manager Brandon Beane planned to call the NFL office Monday morning and let the folks there have a piece of his mind. He is going to demand an explanation.
Of course, it won't matter.
What matters is that the Bills are still alive for the postseason.
"We want to go down to Miami and solidify a win," Hughes said. "We understand it's going to be tough. We know it's going to take an all-team effort. We've got to come out and put this game behind us. If we take care of business, who knows what might happen?"
"If we need help, it is what it is," Hyde said. "But at the same time, we can only control what we can control and we've got to go out there and win next week."