A sports cliché states to never leave a game in the officials’ hands.
But that is arguably what happened Sunday between the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Two second-half controversial calls against the Chiefs impacted a 17-14 loss and cast a dark cloud over Kansas City’s playoff hopes after a third straight loss dropped the team to 7-6.
“I can’t comment on the officials,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters during his postgame media session. “We all have to do our job to the best of our ability.”
The Chiefs held a 14-9 lead early in the third quarter when quarterback Alex Smith found tight end Anthony Fasano in the end zone for an apparent 19-yard touchdown pass.
An offensive pass interference call against Fasano wiped out the score, which would have gave the Chiefs a 20-9 lead pending the point after touchdown.
“From my perspective strictly off scrambling” Smith told reporters during his postgame media session, “as I rolled out to the right, everybody kind of flowed with me and he literally kind of slipped back, he had the vertical. I didn’t see any contact. I don’t know where it came from. Those guys bang a lot in there, tight ends and linebackers.”
The linebacker appeared to draw attention to himself by falling to the ground after making contact with Fasano, and that may have prompted the flag.
“I didn’t see it, so I have no idea,” Smith said. “I’ll have to look at it.”
The penalty proved costly, as Smith threw an interception on the next play.
Arizona (10-3) used the change of possession to march down the field and score a touchdown on quarterback Drew Stanton’s 26-yard pass to wide receiver Jaron Brown. Stanton then hit tight end John Carlson for a two-point conversion to give the Cardinals a 17-14 lead.
The Chiefs were still in the game, however, until another questionable call from the officials.
Kansas City was driving with 5:31 remaining in the fourth quarter when Smith found tight end Travis Kelce for an 18-yard gain.
The ball appeared to move as Kelce was going down, but he also appeared to regain control before hitting the ground, even putting both hands on the ball. The ball then came loose as he rolled on the ground with a defender draped over him for an apparent first down.
A Cardinal defender picked up the ball, but officials immediately pointed to the ground ruling Kelce down by contact.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arian challenged the ruling on the field and referee Craig Wrolstad reversed the call, charging Kelce with a fumble and awarding the recovery to Arizona.
The Cardinals then chewed up clock before missing a field goal, which left the Chiefs with 1:09 remaining in the game.
Kansas City turned the ball over on downs with :07 on the clock.
While the Chiefs had opportunities, the officiating took center stage. Reid said he felt Kelce regained possession, but admits that wasn’t his call to make.
The Chiefs head coach then put an emphatic end to reporter inquiries surrounding the two controversial penalties.
“Go on to something besides the officials,” Reid said. “I don’t have anything good to say.”
KELCE’S FUMBLE EXPLAINED
Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star tweeted out referee Craig Wrolstad’s explanation of Kelce’s fumble to Cardinals beat writer Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic:
Here’s the referee’s explanation of the Travis Kelce fumble: pic.twitter.com/LX4212MoPn
— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) December 8, 2014
CHARLES SUFFERS ANKLE INJURY
Running back Jamaal Charles briefly left Sunday’s game with what Reid called a “slight ankle sprain” after getting bent backward in a pile.
He returned and finished the game with 91 yards rushing and a touchdown on 10 carries, the score coming on a season-high 63-yard run.
Charles added 20 yards receiving and a touchdown on two catches.
The Chiefs totaled nine penalties for 75 yards against the Cardinals.
“Nine penalties are absolutely ridiculous for a football team and everything else that went with it,” Reid said. “These are fixable things. We just got to put our nose to the grinder and get it done.”
In addition to Charles, Reid said defensive tackle Dontari Poe dealt with back spasms.
“Other than that, everybody played and finished the game,” Reid said.
The Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders (2-11) in Week 15 at Arrowhead Stadium.
The game will air at noon CT on CBS.