After Tom Brady's 2-yard scoring pass to Julian Edelman drew the New England Patriots within five points of the Cleveland Browns with 1:01 remaining Sunday, history still did not like their chances. Win-probability statistics culled from years of play-by-play data put the Patriots' chances at only 3.2 percent. Recovering the onside kick pumped up those chances to nearly 25 percent, but it was a dubious pass-interference penalty against Browns cornerback Leon McFadden that swung the odds in the Patriots' favor. That call produced a 29-yard gain in field position, resulting in the largest one-play change in win probability for the entire game, from 24.1 percent to 57.4 percent.
The penalty moved New England to the Browns' 1-yard line, where Brady found Danny Amendola for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. For the Patriots and their fans, it was an epic finish in a season that's already had a couple of them. For everyone else, it was the latest example of a high-profile officiating blunder influencing an outcome. There were others Sunday, including when referee Jeff Triplette inexplicably awarded a touchdown to the Cincinnati Bengals on a shocking reversal.
"I don't think it's any better than it was with replacement refs," one frustrated quarterback said. "There is a big blowup coming. Someone will screw it up in a playoff game and the Super Bowl and it will lead to a restructuring of the whole thing. It is not getting better."
Complaining is one thing. For once, it would be nice if the people doing the griping offered a solution. There is no quick fix, but the quarterback I talked to did bring an idea to the table -- something that would overhaul the officiating ranks with an influx of fresh talent. We'll dive into that subject first before revisiting Andy Dalton, sizing up the San Francisco 49ers, making sense of Mike Shanahan, handicapping the AFC, and updating my list of the top six Super Bowl contenders.