After a home win against the Miami Dolphins on Halloween, the Buffalo Bills flew south to take on the AFC’s other Florida team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bills were heavy favorites, but played terribly. They lost 9-6 in a touchdown-less game that reminded many Bills fans of the drought years. Given the opponent and the caliber of the Bills roster, it might just be the worst loss of the McDermott era.
On thing is for certain, though; it was the worst officiated Bills game I’ve ever witnessed. There were egregiously bad calls that went against the Bills now and again (and yes, even against their opponents). From a start-to-finish, top-to-bottom perspective, this crew was horrendous on Sunday. And while it might be the worst officiating the Bills have had all season, it wasn’t even the worst officiating of the weekend. Tony Corrente and his crew are rightly being called out in the media for their Monday Night Football game, particularly for the poor optics of this penalty call.
But, back to Jacksonville. There were 21 penalties in the Bills – the Jaguars game, with one of them, declined. The Bills committed twelve of them for 118 yards; four on offense for 35, six on defense for 63, and two special teams infractions for 20 yards. Five of Buffalo’s twelve penalties were fifteen-yard personal fouls.
Jacksonville had a much cleaner game, according to the officials. The Jaguars committed eight penalties for 54 yards. Five of them were on offense for 35, and three were on special teams for 15. Interestingly, they did not commit a defensive penalty all game.
Second year referee Land Clark was in charge of Bills – Jaguars. As the referee, Clark’s only other Bills game was week four of last season, when Buffalo played Las Vegas.
The 20 accepted penalties on Sunday marks the highest number for his crew in his career. I thought they were inconsistent, specifically at identifying pre-snap penalties. Clark routinely made mistakes reporting the numbers of players and even the teams who committed the penalties. I thought it was a horrible job by the crew.
Here are five plays I’d like to talk about most:
1: Unnecessary Roughness, Buffalo. Q1, 13:06.
This penalty occurred on the fourth play of the game. Two plays prior, the crew called a taunting penalty, and Land Clark announced it on Buffalo, specifically “Defense number 10.” The Bills number 10 is backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who was inactive with Covid.
These kinds of errors sometimes happen. Often, the other officials give the referee the wrong number or team, and it’s corrected after a moment of embarrassment. In this case, Clark correctly changed the penalty to “Offense number 10,” Jaguars wide receiver Laviska Shenault. No big deal, but it was admittedly pretty funny that CBS showed a graphic with Trubisky’s name on it before they fixed the error.
Then, two plays later, the same thing happened. On 3rd and 16, the officials threw a flag for a scuffle after the play. Clark announced the foul on Jaguars wide receiver Tavon Austin. It took his crew one minute and four seconds to realize that they’d made another mistake and re-reported the foul on Tre’Davious White. What’s more, I’m not convinced White did anything to warrant a foul. He and Austin were engaged long after the whistle, but neither did anything more egregious than the other. For me, it should have either been offsetting or no foul at all.
Four plays into the game, and the crew had lost all credibility. Sometimes, a crew messes up the report. It’s forgivable, and it happens. But you can’t do it twice in a game. You absolutely cannot do it twice in four plays.
2: Unnecessary Roughness, Buffalo. Q2, 12:39.
This penalty was another reporting mistake from Clark, but a good flag from his crew. In this play, defensive lineman K’Lavon Chaisson attempted a spin move on Dion Dawkins, who held his ground and gained leverage on the pass rusher. Chaisson jumped to bat down the pass, and Dawkins easily threw him to the ground. It was a good rep from the left tackle. That was until he decided to dive on top of Chaisson while he was on the ground. I’ve seen this kind of play go uncalled before, but this play puts the “unnecessary” in unnecessary roughness. Dawkins didn’t have to pile on.
Nevertheless, Clark reported the foul as “Offense number 75.” Darryl Williams looked confused, and Sean McDermott looked incensed, as both of them knew that Williams did nothing wrong on the play.
Tyler Bass ended up kicking a field goal on this drive. On the first play of the ensuing Jacksonville possession, there was another penalty. Predictably, Clark butchered his report again. He announced illegal motion on “Offense number 15.” 15 happens to be Jacksonville’s kicker.
The four penalties in these two sections were also the first four penalties of the game. Each one was reported incorrectly. We’ll never know where the mistakes came from – Clark is only announcing what is relayed to him from his crew – but going 0/4 to start the game is entirely unacceptable for the National Football League.
3: No call for Unnecessary Roughness, Jacksonville. Q3, 4:11.
This was almost the same play that was called a penalty in Buffalo’s Week 4 game against Houston. It even involved the same player. At a key moment on 3rd down, Emmanuel Sanders caught a rope from Josh Allen. Before he had time to react, the defensive back hit him in the head. It is your standard helmet-to-helmet hit to a defenseless receiver.
When your team commits this penalty, it sucks. It’s frustrating because the defensive players often do not have enough time to react to avoid a helmet-to-helmet hit. But, if we’re looking for consistency, it’s a penalty.
4: False Start, Buffalo. Q4, 10:04.
This was one of the most important plays of the game and a crucial error by Bills offensive lineman Ike Boettger. On a 4th and 2, Boettger flinched ever so slightly and caused defensive linemen to jump into the neutral zone. It was the correct ruling and good officiating to spot the slight movement. Rewatching the play, it even took me a few times to see Boettger move, but he slightly twitches his left arm. Ultimately, facing a longer 4th and 7, the Bills decided to punt.
5: Forward Progress Ruling. Q4, 1:18.
I think this was a poor call, and it could have had a massive impact if the Bills tied or won the game. On a 3rd and 7, after Darryl Williams decided not to move at the snap, the pressure got to Allen in seconds. He tried to fight it as best he could but struggled amongst the pass rushers, Allen fumbled the ball, and Jacksonville recovered it. Land Clark saw the pressure and determined that Allen was in the grasp of the pass rushers and that his forward progress had been stopped.
This is a non-reviewable play. When an official blows their whistle to signal forward progress, the play is dead. In this case, the officials, specifically the referee, determined that his whistle came before Allen lost the ball, and therefore, it was to be fourth down.
I was not too fond of this call. I thought Clark was premature to call the play dead. Had the Bills converted the fourth down, I would have been furious if I were a Jacksonville fan. Ultimately, Allen threw an incomplete pass, and the game was essentially over.
BONUS: No call for False Start, Jacksonville. Q4, every 3rd and passing yardage.
I added this as a direct comparison to the false start on Ike Boettger. On every 3rd and more than a few yards, right tackle Jawaan Taylor gave himself a head start, moving slightly before the snap. Steve Tasker pointed it out on Twitter, so here is a link to the two plays. If the Boettger false start is a penalty (and it was), then this play needs to be flagged on Taylor.
I first wrote this on Monday evening, before the Monday Night Football game between the Bears and the Steelers. I thought that Land Clark’s crew called perhaps the worst game I’ve seen all season. By the time the night was over, I had realized that was an incorrect statement. Tony Corrente’s crew was worse on Monday night.
The NFL has a major issue right now. The league has never been more popular; its September ratings are up 17% over last year. It is a multi-billion dollar business, yet errors like those made by Clark and Corrente dominate headlines. They’re what fans often remember when the games are over, not the great plays by their favoruite stars.
I don’t pretend to know the solutions to these issues. If you have an idea, please leave a comment, and I’d be happy to discuss it. But this is beyond my scope. Though, what I do know is that when these issues – particularly on primetime games, such as Monday Night Football – they undermine the credibility of the league, the officials, and the popularity of a sport that the NFL has done so well to grow.
On to New Jersey. See you all next week. Go Bills.