The N.F.L. Confronts More Controversy, This Time on the Field

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The N.F.L. this season lastly appeared to have achieved its aim of “getting back to football” after a number of years of off-field turmoil that ranged from participant misconduct to weekly protests throughout the nationwide anthem. But the league’s bounce-back season was knocked off stride on Sunday, as officers in the two convention championship video games made baffling, controversial calls that to some extent overshadowed the in any other case thrilling matchups.

The calls — or non-calls — left legions of followers feeling their groups had been robbed of an opportunity to advance to the Super Bowl, and left others merely confused. Once once more, the dialog Monday targeted as a lot on the that means of penalties like roughing the passer and go interference — and why they have been or weren’t referred to as — because it did about the consequence of the video games themselves.

The officiating uproar might result in much more rule modifications, video critiques and coaches’ challenges. Those may make video games even longer regardless of the league’s professed aim of chopping down stoppages. And one other debate is more likely to ensue about the use of know-how, which generally fails to offer the closure it guarantees.

“That was a bad play, I felt awful,” Edelman said afterward. “But you have to move on.” (Which he did as the game continued to go back and forth and he caught key passes from Brady.)

Chiefs fans, meanwhile, were also aggrieved by a roughing-the-passer call on a second-and-7 in the fourth quarter after defensive lineman Chris Jones landed a seemingly innocuous slap on Brady’s shoulder as he made a throw. But a 15-yard penalty was enforced, and the Patriots went on to score one of the go-ahead touchdowns that punctuated the last part of the game.

And finally, after all the controversey, the Patriots completed a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive in overtime to win the game and move on to the Super Bowl in Atlanta, where they will face the Rams. It will be third straight Super Bowl for Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick, and their fourth in five seasons. It will also be their ninth Super Bowl in the last two decades, with New England winning five of the previous eight.

This season was not entirely free of such controversy. There was the release of a security video showing Kareem Hunt, a star running back on the Chiefs, shoving and kicking a woman. Hunt was suspended indefinitely and then released by his team, and the league was criticized yet again for not doing enough to punish players involved in off-field violence.

The scandal did not dominate the season the way similar incidents have in previous years, largely because the video was released toward the end of the season. By then, interest in games had already rebounded.

Rubin’s company has been one of the biggest beneficiaries. Sales of N.F.L.-licensed merchandise at Fanatics has risen by 25 percent this season — about $100 million.

Mahomes had the third-best selling jersey, after Bears linebacker Khalil Mack and Brady. Demand for the Mahomes jersey was so strong there has been a backlog of orders.

Other new stars goosed sales, too. After quarterback Baker Mayfield helped Cleveland break its long losing streak, sales of Browns merchandise soared nearly 100 times compared to the same week the season before. Jerseys of two rookies, Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, were also among the top 15 best-selling jerseys in the regular season.

“There’s been an influx of these young guys who have come in and done a nice job,” Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said last week. “That’s great for the game. That’s why we’re all doing it.”

These “young guys” are one reason average television viewership rose by 5 percent this season compared to a year ago. Every network, including ESPN, NBC, Fox and CBS, and every time slot — Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays — showed improved numbers.

In addition, teams in major media markets including Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles made the playoffs this season.

With the Saints and Chiefs now eliminated, the Super Bowl will offer an intriguing contrast. The fourth-youngest team in the league, the Rams, who are led by a 32-year old coach, Sean McVay, will face a Patriots team that has made participation in the Super Bowl almost an annual event. And then there is the fact that Brady is actually nine years older than McVay and that the 66-year-old Belichick is more than twice his age.

That should make for great conversation — assuming the referees don’t blow any more calls.

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