Late in the third quarter Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium, the Denver Broncos found themselves in an unfamiliar, almost foreign position: having both the lead and offensive momentum.
That is why when the officiating crew flagged wide receiver Courtland Sutton on third-and-11, negating what would have been a 40+ yard play, members of the Broncos had trouble biting their collective tongues after the game.
Interim head coach Jerry Rosburg, when asked about the game, smiled slightly before giving the ultimate diplomatic response.
“Okay, so I’m the interim head coach, right, but I know how the NFL office works when it comes to coaches criticizing the officials,” he said before briefly expressing admiration for the crew that worked the game while pointing out the difficulty in officiating the matchup. “But it doesn’t mean I can’t have my disagreements. What’s the word… ‘unfortunate’, perhaps. There was an unfortunate (call) during the game that I disagree with.”
Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was less diplomatic and more directly to the point, simply expressing, “That ain’t no pass interference.”
Jeudy, on the OPI call against Sutton: “That ain’t no pass interference.”
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 1, 2023
The reaction to the play should be of no surprise, as it was a pivotal one in a game where the Broncos finally seemed to be clicking and competing at a level most expected before the start of the season.
With the lead, the play would have put the Broncos right around the 40-yard line of the Kansas City Chiefs, in prime position to expand on what was a 4-point lead. Instead, it turned a 1st and 10 and the opposing 40-yard line into a 3rd-and-19 at their own eight-yard line.
The Chiefs would take over two plays later, drive for a touchdown, and the Broncos would respond with an interception. They would play behind the rest of the game, and many would ultimately point to that call as the one that stole momentum away from the visiting team.
And it wasn’t just the players and coaches in the locker room expressing frustration at the call. Onlookers everywhere shared their thoughts on what they believed to be a bogus call.
I have no dog in the fight … but that was a terrible call on Courtland Sutton for offensive pass interference on that 50 yard completion. Yikes.
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 1, 2023
That shambolic PI call against Courtland Sutton was the turning point. Legitimately one of the worst calls I’ve seen in ages.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 1, 2023
Courtland Sutton goes up and GETS it.
Just a TERRIBLE call
— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) January 1, 2023
It’s often lazy to say one bad penalty changed the whole game, but that BS flag on Courtland Sutton changed the whole game. Freaking awful. #BroncosCountry
— Will Petersen (@PetersenWill) January 1, 2023
Chiefs are better than Broncos.
(Yeah, I know: Well, duh.)
And can’t blame the refs for Chiefs being better than Broncos.
But that iffy offensive pass interference penalty on Courtland Sutton did change the entire complexion of this game.
— Mark Kiszla (@markkiszla) January 1, 2023
QB Russell Wilson took a more diplomatic approach to the game, similar to Rosburg, but pointed out that it sucked the momentum away from the team.
“He made a great catch, and I for sure thought it was going to be pass interference the other way,” he told the media after the game. “We had to respond and still had a lot of game left, but that was a big point in the game because for us, we’re up 17-13 and get the ball on their 40, we have all the momentum. And now it’s third-and-twenty or whatever it was.”
The man at the center of it all, Courtland Sutton, chose his words carefully but could not hide the fact that he was extremely less-than-pleased with the call.
“I caught the ball and saw that a flag was on the ground,” he said. “I thought for sure it was going to be (defensive pass interference). It turned out to be (offensive pass interference)…interesting…but, it happened.”
Sutton would later say he did get a chance to ask the official what exactly he did that prompted his decision to flag him, and the referees answer appeared to have been less than satisfactory.
“Apparently, when I asked the official who threw the flag, he said that I pushed the defender in the chest to make the catch,” Sutton recalled. “And that’s where the flag came from. But
The video, embedded at the top of this page, shows no such pushing of the chest, but in a game when a penalty for a hit on a defenseless receiver in Kendall Hinton wasn’t called, nor during one where the officials didn’t believe Russell Wilson being body slammed after a throw was roughing the passer, things were just not destined to go the Broncos’ way.
Regardless of the outcome, it was arguably the most crisp, efficient, and disciplined the team has looked all season, and Rosburg deserves credit for getting the team ready to play.
Unfortunately, moral victories are not awarded in this league, especially to a Super Bowl-winning franchise like the Broncos, and it is yet another loss in a season that has featured too many to stomach.
Still, in a season with so many close losses, watching that play go down and seeing what followed, it doesn’t make that knowledge any easier to accept.