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Bengals’ Tee Higgins held by Chiefs’ Rashad Fenton as referees miss obvious penalty in AFC Championship Game


The Bengals settled for a field goal on their second offensive drive of the game. However, many believed Cincinnati should have had a first-and-goal opportunity after the officials appeared to miss a defensive penalty against the Chiefs.

Cincinnati had the ball on the Chiefs’ 14-yard line when Joe Burrow threw a second-and-10 pass to Tee Higgins in the end-zone. Higgins got free from cornerback Rashad Fenton, who was in hot pursuit of the big-bodied receiver.

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Fenton couldn’t catch up, so he grabbed Higgins’ right arm, forcing the receiver to attempt a one-handed catch. Higgins nearly managed to grab the ball, but he ultimately couldn’t reel it in.

The officials didn’t throw a flag on the play despite Fenton’s clear contact with Higgins. That put the Bengals in a third-and-10 situation instead of having a first down at either the Chiefs’ 9-yard line, had the officials called defensive holding, or at the Chiefs’ 1-yard line had the referees called defensive pass interference.

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The non-call proved costly. The Bengals attempted another throw into the end-zone on third-and-10, but Ja’Marr Chase was unable to make the catch through some contact. 

As a result, the Bengals had to settle for a field goal that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 7-3 instead of getting another chance to tie the game. The Chiefs would extend their lead to 14-3 on the next drive.

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That the officials, headlined by Bill Vinovich, were reluctant to call a penalty on the Higgins catch shouldn’t be a major surprise. Vinovich’s crews called the fewest penalties in the NFL during the 2021 regular season, at just 175. Their mark of 10.9 penalties per game was one fewer than the 11.9 average of John Hussey’s crew, which called the second-fewest penalties per game.




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