The NFL officials are known for making their presence known far too often in games, especially in big moments. And although it's never a great argument to resort to when discussing a game when the Patriots lose to blame the referees, it's completely valid in their latest loss to the Dolphins.
To make it clear: the Patriots were likely not winning this game, not just because of their struggling offense, but also because their defense had an incredibly tough time slowing down one of the quickest offenses in football, led by Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
So, did the officials impact the game? Yes. Were they the reason the Patriots lost? Probably not.
With that said, their horrific performance, which impacted New England the most, is not something that should just be glossed over. It's becoming far too familiar for officials to have inexcusable, poorly called games that are just brushed under the rug, even more so when it's a team that many don't care lost because of it.
That's the consensus when it comes to the Patriots, and given their history of absolute domination over the league for two decades, it makes sense that fans outside of New England wouldn't take issue with seeing them lose overall, but especially by the impact of bad officiating.
Even with that said, referees dramatically altering the flow of a game should always be called out, no matter the teams involved or who it benefits/hurts.
So what happened to the Patriots should be highlighted.
Inconsistent penalty calling was a significant issue
One of the biggest complaints against NFL officials for several years has been their lack of consistency when penalizing similar plays in a game. That became the most frustrating factor of their performance in Week 8, resulting in seven total penalties for 45 yards against the Patriots compared to Miami's three for 25.
The first questionable call came in the second quarter when DeVante Parker was knocked out by a clear helmet-to-helmet hit that was left uncalled. It was the most straightforward call to make, as it was essentially the definition of what that penalty was made for. But the referees looked the other way and decided to let it go.
To make matters worse, Parker was almost immediately ruled out for the rest of the game with a head injury.
For an organization that claims to prioritize player safety, it's a bit ironic that these types of plays are often not flagged in real-time. Instead, the players involved are becoming increasingly fined after the fact, which is not doing anything to stop the officials from missing them again in the future.
The inconsistency of flag-throwing on a similar play didn't come until late in the fourth quarter. JuJu Smith-Schuster made a good play on Brandon Jones, preventing the defender to pick up an interception on the Patriots' fourth down play.
Despite that it was a solid hit, that was to Jones' shoulders, Smith-Schuster was flagged for the hit. The official decided to presumably change it to taunting instead, even though the receiver didn't display anything of the sort, solidifying the assumption that the flag was likely initially thrown for the hit.
Although New England wasn't technically penalized for it, there was no evidence of actual taunting by Smith-Schuster, hence why the timing of the flag made it fair to assume it was really for the hit.
And then there's phantom whistle-blowing?
The other problematic call came on a run play by the Dolphins, which ended when the ball was punched out and recovered by the Patriots.
But for some reason, none of it counted. Why? Because the referees claimed the whistle had already blown the play dead before the fumble occurred. Considering no whistle was heard by anyone, even the players on the field, it was an interesting turn of events to prevent the Patriots from gaining any momentum.
They claimed forward progress was made on top of the whistle being blown, allowing the Dolphins to move the chains.
Given that the defense had made an incredible play at a time when the team really needed it not to allow the game to get out of hand, the phantom whistle couldn't have come at a worse time.
"You can't blame the referees for altering a game." But.....
As it was already said, the Patriots don't have a good track record against the Dolphins in Miami, so they likely weren't winning this game anyway. However, the officials making themselves the third team in a head-to-head matchup is never excusable, and there needs to be more repercussions for their bad performances from the NFL.
Whatever the league is doing right now is clearly not enough. Their officials need to be held to a higher standard and shouldn't become the punchline of a joke when talking about how they officiate a game.
This latest showing by the refs was a complete joke, with even former Patriots commenting on how bad it was. Sure, they may be a little biased. But guys like Matt Chatham are not shy to criticize the team when warranted. So if he's exclaiming the referees were horrific in Miami, it's even more apparent that they were.
It's difficult to say what exactly should change regarding punishment for bad performances. It would be nice if the NFL had officiating reports that could be viewed by teams and fans, similar to what the NBA has. It would be even better if more plays could be challenged and reviewed during a game, as Bill Belichick has been the leading advocate for many years now.
It will probably never happen because the league would have to admit its inadequacies in order to implement the rule change. But it's something the owners should seriously consider, as any team in any game could fall victim to lousy officiating every week.