DENVER -- The second-quarter play came along the left sideline, and, as Bill Belichick peered down the sideline, he saw cornerback Asante Samuel running stride for stride with Broncos receiver Ashley Lelie.
''I saw what the side judge saw," said Belichick.
The side judge, Greg Meyer, was closest to the play. He kept his penalty flag in his pocket as the ball sailed over the top of both players.
But from under the shadow of the goal posts, back judge Gregory Steed unfurled his yellow flag into the area of the play. Penalty. Pass interference. Broncos' ball on the Patriots' 1 with 1:45 remaining in the second quarter.
It was a game-changing play, leading to a Broncos touchdown. Denver never trailed again.
''It was a controversial call," said Samuel, who wasn't sure if he interfered with Lelie. ''It's a call we have to live with."
Prior to the penalty, the Patriots led, 3-0. New England had just lost a Kevin Faulk fumble at its 40 and the Broncos went right for the jugular, with quarterback Jake Plummer firing a pass toward Lelie.
''We kind of got tangled up," said Lelie. ''Sometimes the refs don't call that, but they called it today."
The flag came a few seconds late.
''I was a little surprised because I didn't see one down there [at first]," Lelie said. ''I didn't think I was going to get one. But I guess as soon as I started complaining, he threw the flag out there. I mean, there was a lot of contact. It could have gone either way."
Belichick was asked if he could have coached Samuel to do a better job on the play. ''I would have told him the same thing the side judge told him," said Belichick, hinting that the side judge was in the best position to make the call.
Samuel was asked to explain how the play unfolded: ''You know, we're just out there competing and I can't do that, I gave up a touchdown," he said. ''I was just out there giving my all and was just mad about it. They get the ball on the 1 yard line after that, so whatever I did wrong I just have to do better."
Samuel and Lelie were hand fighting as they sprinted down the line and it appeared Lelie made the first contact. Samuel also made contact and was heated after the flag was thrown.
''When you get a pass interference call in the end zone, it's just like them catching a long pass on the 1," Samuel said.
It wasn't the only impact play in which the third-year cornerback was involved. He intercepted a pass midway through the second quarter, just the eighth time Plummer was picked off this season. The play -- also intended for Lelie -- came along the same sideline and Samuel kept his feet in bounds as he undercut the throw. The officials initially ruled Samuel was out of bounds, but the Patriots, given extra time to look at the replay because of a Denver timeout, successfully challenged the play.
''He ran a corner route and I broke on it," said Samuel, who also intercepted a pass against the Jaguars in the wild-card round and had three picks in the regular season.
Samuel said he tried to persuade Belichick to throw the challenge flag.
''I was telling him, 'Throw it, you need to try.' They called timeout and that helped us out."