In the Broncos’ 27-24 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, an offensive pass-interference call on Courtland Sutton changed the momentum of the game in the second half.
The situation: Broncos ahead 17-13, facing third-and-11 on their own 16-yard line, 4:17 left in the third quarter.
The formation: Shotgun, with trips left, and Courtland Sutton spread out wide by himself on the right side. Latavius Murray in the backfield to the right of quarterback Russell Wilson.
The play call: Jerry Jeudy, Kendall Hinton and Sutton ran deep vertical routes. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam ran a quick out route. Murray ran a quick flare route out of the backfield.
The result: Wilson keyed in on Sutton the whole time, and after getting good protection in the pocket, heaved a pass about 50 yards downfield to Sutton, who was double-covered by cornerback Jaylen Watson and safety Bryan Cook. Sutton went up and high-pointed the pass with a highlight-reel grab, and came down at about the Kansas City 40-yard line. Sutton got up, signaled for a first down and then dropped the football like a mic as he walked away. Cook and Watson were left looking at each other, wondering what happened, both clearly surprised Sutton made that catch. But it was for naught, as Sutton was flagged for pass interference on the play.
The fallout: Sutton was incensed with the call as he came off the field. Towards the end of his route, Sutton’s right arm extends toward Cook, slightly pushing the safety away from him as the two went up for Wilson’s underthrown jump-ball. CBS color commentator Adam Archuleta, a former NFL safety, agreed with Sutton: “That’s calling it pretty tight.”
So did former referee and network rules analyst Gene Steratore, who said “I don’t think Cook goes backwards as a result of Sutton separating himself from him.”
“Yes there’s a little hand there (that Sutton is extending), but if you’re watching Cook’s left hand, it’s on Sutton’s right arm a little,” Steratore said. “To me, a no-call is the best call on that play.”
Interim head coach Jerry Rosburg said the call was “unfortunate,” with Jeudy adding, “There’s no way that’s interference.”
Facing third-and-19 the next play, the Broncos were unable to convert, and punted the ball back to Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes proceeded to lead the Chiefs on a six-play, 65-yard touchdown march to re-take the lead for the home team, 20-17. Russell Wilson’s interception the very next drive set KC up in the red zone and led to another TD, making it 27-17.
The call on Sutton changed the complexion of the game. Had Sutton not been flagged for PI, the Broncos would have been in field goal range with the potential to move their lead to 20-13. Instead, the momentum shift caused by the flag led to consecutive TDs for Kansas City, the latter of which proved to be the game-winner.