‘Stop the Steal!’: Poor Officiating in AFC Championship Game Sparks Accusations That the NFL Is ‘Rigged’

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs edged out a victory against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, sparking conspiracies about “rigged” officiating due to the many lucky breaks referees appeared to hand Kansas City in the second half.

Though every NFL game will offer a botched call or two from officials, the referees on Sunday offered several head-scratching moments especially toward the end as the Cincinnati Bengals picked up the pace to tie the game. In one particular incident, the referees went as far as to give the Kansas City Chiefs a full extra play after the Bengals stopped them on third down after an official allegedly tried to break up the play before the snap. Since no team appeared to hear the whistle, the play went as scheduled and the Bengals forced a fourth down; the referees gave the Chiefs an extra play anyway.

The “rigged” conspiracy theories only worsened as the game unfolded, especially when the officials appeared to overlook a blatant holding violation by the Chiefs as quarterback Patrick Mahomes ran the ball for a first down, picking up an extra 15 yards due to a roughing the passer call. The Chiefs would go on to score a field goal to seal the victory in the last seconds of the game.

Even Republican Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance got in on the outrage.


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