The Patriots didn’t want to blame Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs on the officials. But at least one member of the officiating community wasn’t happy with the performance of referee Jerome Boger and the other six members of his crew.
“I didn’t feel it was up to the standards that are necessary to work in the National Football League,” said Jim Daopoulos, formerly the NFL’s supervisor of officials.
Boger and his crew botched several big calls Sunday; most notably, they incorrectly ruled that N’Keal Harry stepped out of bounds, negating what should have been a New England touchdown, and they incorrectly blew a fumble dead, negating what could have been a touchdown return for Stephon Gilmore.
Boger and his crew also gave Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins a questionable spot of the football resulting in a crucial third-down conversion; they picked up at least four penalty flags after conferring as a group; they called several ticky-tack holding penalties but didn’t flag the Chiefs on what clearly appeared to be pass interference late in the fourth quarter; and, most egregiously, they incorrectly assessed the Chiefs a 5-yard penalty for illegal hands to the face instead of a 10-yard penalty, according to the website Football Zebras.
Not one person on the seven-man crew realized that the penalty mark-off was wrong.
Patriots fans who want accountability for Boger and his crewmates likely will be disappointed. In 2018, the NFL took an unprecedented step of firing down judge Hugo Cruz, the first time it ever fired an official in midseason for poor performance. But otherwise the officials have a very strong union, according to Daopoulos, and discipline is extremely rare. The only real punishment for poor performance is not getting a playoff assignment.
The NFL does grade the officials, with supervisors going through every call of every game on Mondays and Tuesdays. The officials are graded individually, not by crew.
“Correct calls, incorrect calls, mechanics, positioning, etc.,” Daopoulos said. “They’ll read the game reports from the officials, they have access to all the coaches’ tapes, the TV tapes, so they listen to announcements, and that’s how they evaluate each call.”
Daopoulos used to participate in the grading when he was director of officials from 2000-09. But Al Riveron, who has additional responsibilities as the person in charge of all instant replay decisions, is not believed to participate in the grading process now. The NFL did not respond to a request for comment.
The officials get periodic updates about their progress but don’t get extensive feedback on their performance, Daopoulos said. All the officials are told is which tier they are graded in: upper, middle, or lower.
“They’re told that the calls are either correct or incorrect, but they don’t know where they stand each week,” Daopoulos. “The league doesn’t tell them.”
The highest-graded officials get the playoff assignments, and in theory the best officials are awarded the Super Bowl. But the NFL likes to give the Super Bowl opportunity to as many officials as possible, and won’t award it to the same officials year after year, even if they grade out the best.
Boger, an NFL official since 2004 who was promoted to referee in 2006, does not have many playoff assignments on his résumé. His last postseason game was the Ravens-49ers Super Bowl in February 2013. Prior to that, Boger had not worked a playoff game since Chargers-Jets in the divisional round in January 2010.