FOXBORO, Mass. _ Questionable officiating didn’t cost the Tennessee Titans the game, but it certainly swung the momentum clearly in favor of the host New England Patriots Saturday night in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.
When it was over, the Patriots had parlayed the calls that went against the Titans in the second quarter into a 21-7 halftime lead that proved insurmountable for Tennessee as New England claimed a 35-14 victory.
“I’ll never blame officiating for costing us a game. We’ve got to play better. There’s no question about it,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
With the game tied at 7-7 and the Titans driving following the Patriots tying the game, wide receiver Eric Decker’s third-down conversion catch was nullified by a offensive pass interference call on him, putting Tennessee in third-and-long and eventually forcing a punt.
Decker touched Malcolm Butler on the shoulder pads after the Patriots’ cornerback had already lost his balance and was about to fall. Mularkey, who has been a vocal critic of officiating all year, was disappointed to say the least.
“That one I don’t even want to talk about. That one goes down in history,” Mularkey said.
Trailing 14-7, the Titans had forced a punt from the Patriots later in the quarter, and while lined up in punt formation, a lineman for New England false started. Initially five yards was called, only to have it overturned and called encroachment on the Titans’ Brynden Trawick, giving New England a first down. The drive then became a touchdown and a 21-7 Patriots lead at the half.
“It is what it is,” Trawick said. “When you play these, you’ve got to play fundamentally sound and don’t leave it in the refs’ hands.”
By then, Mularkey was so frustrated that he didn’t even ask for an explanation.
“By that point, I was tired of the explanations I was getting,” Mularkey said. “There were more than that one. There were many, many things. Obviously they went down and scored a touchdown so I would say it’s pretty big.”
As for his other gripes, the Titans were called for three false starts among their 10 penalties for 62 yards.
“It was first-and-15 every time you turn around. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you have to get 15 yards for a first down. That had a huge impact on us,” he said.
The Titans knew that mistakes could be their downfall going into the game, and that proved to be the case.
“We just started shooting ourselves in the foot, a lot of penalties, a lot of mistakes, and that’s all phases – special teams, defense, offense,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “You can’t do that, because truthfully the refs are on their side and any time you make a mistake it’s big.”
Quarterback Marcus Mariota played through the game after suffering a quadriceps injury in the first quarter Saturday night.
Mike Mularkey said it caused the Titans to have to remove some of their read-option plays from the game plan.
“It had an impact, obviously,” Mularkey said. “We had to get out of some of the scheme we had with him, with our zone scheme.”
Two Titans suffered knee injuries and did not return. Right tackle Jack Conklin left in the first half with a knee injury, and tight end Jonnu Smith had to be carted off the field I the second half with a knee injury. Both will have MRIs to determine the extent of the injuries.
Also, defensive end Karl Klug was in the concussion protocol, but cleared it.
Tight end Delanie Walker left briefly with a wrist injury, one he described as being “jacked up all season.”