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Before the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship was over, “NFL RIGGED” was trending on Twitter. Several calls by NFL referee Ron Torbert’s crew went against the away side, and Bengals fans and supporters weren’t happy about it. Two fourth-quarter calls, a replayed 3rd-down for the Chiefs, and an intentional grounding on Joe Burrow particularly upset people. However, after the game, Torbert explained the calls clearly and concisely, although that won’t make the Bengals or their fans feel any better.

NFL referee explains the Chiefs’ 3rd-down do over

If you weren’t paying close attention with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter of the Bengals-Chiefs AFC Championship Game, what happened on the next two plays would be incredibly confusing.

On 2nd-and-9, Patrick Mahomes threw an incomplete pass with the score tied 20-20. When setting up 3rd-and-9, the NFL referees officiation the game had to reset the spot but the play clock kept running. To fix this, Ron Torbert announced, “Please reset the play clock to 10 seconds, please. The play clock and game clock will start on my signal.”

The problem was, after an incomplete pass, only the play clock — and not the game clock – should have started when Torbert tweeted his whistle.

Both clocks started, though, and Mahomes hit Travis Kelce four yards short of a first down, setting up a Chiefs punt. However, what no one heard or noticed was field judge Tom Hill running in from the back of the Bengals defense to stop the play.

That official correctly recognized the game clock shouldn’t have started and stopped the play, even though no one heard it with the noise at Arrowhead Stadium. Torbert then announced the mistake and reset 3rd-down, much to the chagrin of Bengals fans, head coach Zac Taylor, and the “NFL rigged” crowd on social media.

Bengals defensive lineman B.J. Hill sacked Mahomes on the play, but another of the NFL referees on the field called defensive holding on Eli Apple. That gave the Chiefs an automatic first down.

The Chiefs eventually punted anyway, but the seeds of discontent were already planted.

After the game, Torbert explained to the NFL pool reporter what happened and how re-doing the down is standard operating procedure. “If we were trying to shut down the play and we couldn’t, we would shut it down and go back and replay the down,” Torbert said.

The Joe Burrow intentional grounding

NFL referee, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, AFC Championship, 3rd down
Head coach Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals (R) talks with NFL referee Ron Torbert and line judge Jeff Seeman in the AFC Championship Game | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After the 3rd-down do-over (and the subsequent Eli Apple penalty), nobody in orange and black was happy. Another key call by the NFL referees was an intentional grounding call on Bengals QB Joe Burrow with 1:22 left in the AFC Championship game.

Burrow threw a 2nd-and-7 incompletion under pressure, and after an officials conference, they called the play intentional grounding. That call set up a 3rd-and-16 instead of a 2nd-and-7. The Bengals made the first down on a 23-yard completion to tight end Hayden Hurst on the next play, but that didn’t make Bengals fans any happier about the call.

After the game, that call was another that NFL referee Ron Torbert was asked to clarify.

The quarterback was under duress, in danger of being sacked, and threw the ball into the ground. There was no eligible receiver in the area, and he had not gotten out of the pocket and thrown it beyond the line of scrimmage. So, that was a foul for intentional grounding.

NFL referee Ron Torbert on Joe Burrow’s intentional grounding

It was a textbook explanation for a seemingly obvious call, but not one that stopped “NFL rigged” from trending.


Cocky Bengals Get What They Deserve vs. Chiefs at ‘Burrowhead’ in AFC Championship