Why there’s no excuse for Chiefs WR Kadarius Toney lining up offside vs. Bills

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It was the talk of Week 14. What would have been one of the best plays of the NFL season, a cross-field lateral from Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to wide receiver Kadarius Toney allowing him to score a go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Bills, was negated because Toney lined up offsides on the play. 

It’s the latest blunder in a rough season for Toney, whose propensity for drops has made him the face of Kansas City’s struggling wide receiver corps. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid were incensed after the penalty — but at the officiating crew, not at Toney. 

Mahomes had to be restrained from charging at a referee after the Chiefs turned the ball over on downs, then kept ranting about the penalty call during his postgame handshake with Bills counterpart Josh Allen after Buffalo secured the 20-17 win. In a radio interview Monday, Mahomes said he regrets his actions both with the officials and with Allen.

Offensive offside has been called more this season. There have been 13 such penalties in 2023, including a few against the Philadelphia Eagles on the “tush push” play, compared to only seven total in the previous three seasons combined.

Reid pointed out his displeasure with the call after the game.

“I never use any of this as excuses, but normally I get a warning before something like that happens in a big game,” Reid said. “[It’s] a bit embarrassing in the National Football League for that to take place. … Normally, yeah, if it’s even close you get a warning. The head coach gets a warning.”

Reid acknowledged Monday that Toney lined up ahead of the line of scrimmage, as multiple camera angles clearly showed. But the coach still blamed the referees for not alerting Toney so he could reposition himself before the play. Wide receivers often check with the sideline referee to make sure they are positioned correctly, but video that surfaced on social media showed Toney briefly gesturing to the referee before turning his head back to the middle of the field before the ball was snapped.

A trio of legendary NFL wide receivers-turned-FOX Sports analysts — Greg Jennings, Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson — said Toney and the Chiefs have no excuses to hide behind for the blunder.

“It’s not the ref’s responsibility to yell, ‘Hey 19, back up!'” Jennings said on Monday’s edition of “The Carton Show.” “But it is the responsibility of Kadarius Toney, the player that’s on the ball — or hoping to be on the ball — to look out to the ref and confirm whether or not he’s onsides. 

“I don’t want to hear what should be or what could be. What I do know is that this is inexcusable. I have never, I have never — and I played that position — I never lined up past the ball. I don’t know how that works. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

While referees often warn players if they frequently line up offsides, Carl Cheffers, the head of the officiating crew for Sunday’s game in Kansas City, said officials are not mandated to do so. 

“Certainly, no warning is required, especially if they are lined up so far offsides where they’re actually blocking our view of the ball,” Cheffers told the pool reporter after the game. “So, we would give them some sort of a warning if it was anywhere close, but this particular one is beyond a warning.”

The “Undisputed” crew breaks down the controversial penalty call

The "Undisputed" crew breaks down the controversial penalty call

When Skip Bayless asked his “Undisputed” co-hosts Johnson, Irvin and former All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman how often they would check with the referee to make sure they were lined up correctly before a snap, all three responded that they would do so every single play.

“You can’t be offsides. Period. Bottom line,” Johnson said. “And on top of that, as a receiver, one of the first things [you learn] going all the way back to high school, check with the ref. When you break the huddle, and you’re the point person, and you’re supposed to be the guy lined up, all you’ve got to do is [gesture to check]. And if he doesn’t see you, wave at him!”

While Johnson was willing to give Toney a bit of grace as a 24-year-old who’s only in his third NFL season, he believes it is foolish for the Chiefs to blame the referees instead of making it a teaching moment for the receiver.

“He’s probably never been in this position at this situation at this time,” Johnson said. “A lot’s going on, his mind is racing. So I give him a smidgen of an excuse with that. But at the same time, he has to check [with the official] every single time that he lines up.”

Irvin said he understood Toney’s desire to get as close to the line of scrimmage as possible to get a jump on the opposing defensive back, but not his inability to check with the referee on the sideline. 

While Irvin agreed with Johnson, the Cowboys legend also directed his ire at the Chiefs’ biggest names.

“I am absolutely blown away … by the reaction to that call from Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes,” Irvin said. “Don’t fix your mouth to tell [the referees] that they can’t make a call when your guy is blatantly offsides. That’s your frustration, that’s all that is, because guys now are dropping passes, dropping balls everywhere. [Toney] being offsides is apropos. I’m sorry to say that, but it is. 

“Dropping passes, which the Chiefs lead the league in, is a lack of focus. … Being offsides is a lack of focus.”

Kansas City does indeed lead the NFL in dropped passes with 32, per Pro Football Reference. Irvin believes that the departure of offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, now with Washington, is a factor in the Chiefs’ struggles. Irvin also thinks that the Chiefs will have real problems in the playoffs if their wide receivers are making blunders in regular-season games.

“I respect [Mahomes and Reid] to the utmost, but this is not nice,” Irvin said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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