There’s a tendency to want to find someone to blame when things go wrong, especially when it comes to protecting ourselves or our friends. Patrick Mahomes did just this in the wake of the game-defining offensive offsides penalty on Kadarius Toney in Bills-Chiefs, which erased the go-ahead touchdown and effectively sealed the game.

Mahomes has been blasting the referees, as has Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid. Their argument is a little different, but is fundamentally couched in not receiving a warning prior to flagging Toney. The quarterback wanted the players to decide the game, not the refs — but here’s the problem: They already did when Toney lined up a almost a half yard past the ball, stared at it, and somehow didn’t realize (or care) that he was offsides.

We can certainly have empathy for how disappointing the penalty was, or the fact it robbed us of a brilliant improvised touchdown — but it’s considerably tougher to have empathy with the position that this was on the refs, or that the right thing to do was let it go so the players could settle it on the field.

Unlike pass interference, roughing the passer, or hitting a defenseless receiver — offsides isn’t a subjective penalty. From the NFL rulebook it’s pretty clear what is defined as the neutral zone, and how Toney was clearly offsides by the rules.

The neutral zone is the space between the forward and backward points of the ball (planes) and extends to the sidelines. It starts when the ball is ready for play.

If he is not the snapper, no part of his body is permitted to be in the neutral zone at the snap, and his helmet must break a vertical plane that passes through the beltline of the snapper.

Even if you account for Creed Humphrey rotating the ball, Toney’s toes are still well into the neutral zone. Not to mention the WR is staring right at the ball, and didn’t think of changing his stance at all.

The problem with Mahomes’ “let us play” stance is that there are variables in this situation that could have influenced the outcome of the game. If defensive players saw the flag being thrown, knowing Toney was offsides, then it could have affected how the played post-snap. We also don’t know if Toney got a competitive edge in his release by being lined up in the neutral zone, which could have made an impact whether he was in position to catch the lateral from Kelce.

A core argument from Reid is that typically players get warnings, but this was a high-pressure moment with just over a minute left on the clock — it’s not like this happened in the first quarter. Former NFL head of officiating Gene Steratore called the Toney infraction “egregious,” which it was.

The referees are really in a lose-lost situation. If they don’t call that penalty then the conversation today is about how they missed a call than handed Kansas City the game, rather than getting it right. Also, let’s be honest here: The Chiefs beat themselves beyond the penalty.

It’s not like the Toney play ended the game. Immediately proceeding the call they still had three more plays to move the ball at least into field coach range, with two timeouts in hand and couldn’t execute. Mahomes was incomplete to short right, then he was incomplete to Kelce short left, then he was incomplete again to Kelce deep right.

In a lot of ways Mahomes got exactly what he wanted: To settle this on the field, and the Chiefs couldn’t get the job done. They reasonably only needed to gain 10 yards in three downs to get inside Harrison Butker’s effective range and potentially send the game to overtime — but they didn’t.

You can absolutely be disappointed the game ended that way, and crushed by the result — but as for being angry with anyone? Well, point your finger at your teammate who caused the penalty, and everyone for failing to move the ball after that. The refs got this one right.

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By David

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