Buffalo Bills Rulings Review (2022): Week 1
Two hundred and twenty-eight days after their 2021 season came to an abrupt end, the Buffalo Bills are back. They opened their season in Los Angeles against the Rams. It was the first regular season game of the entire NFL season, with Buffalo visiting the defending Super Bowl champions. It was also the first regular season action for the third team on the field: the officials.
Just as many teams are rusty to start their seasons, officiating crews occasionally struggle to acclimate themselves in September. Crews change in the offseason. Retirements, promotions, position changes, and officials shifting to a different crew can sometimes cause chaos in the early weeks.
That was not the case on Thursday night. There were only nine flags thrown, no reviews necessary, and nothing substantially controversial in the game.
Of the nine fouls committed on Thursday, five went against Buffalo and four went against Los Angeles. Buffalo had two offensive penalties, each a false start by an offensive lineman, totaling 10 yards. On defense, the committed three penalties, totaling 25. The Rams had only two penalties on each side of the ball. Their two false starts set their offense back 10 yards, and their two defensive penalties totaled 20 yards.
The referee for the kickoff game was Carl Cheffers. Last year, Cheffers’ crew called the most fouls out of any officiating crew at a staggering 13.9 flags-per-game. The only time his crew officiated a Buffalo Bills game last year was Buffalo’s regular season win in Kansas City. His crew flagged the Bills ten times for 103 yards.
Justifiably, I was a little worried when I saw the officiating assignments for Week 1. I expected many more flags than the nine we saw on Thursday, but Cheffers and his crew let the secondaries play physically and some potentially unsportsmanlike behavior pass. I cannot disagree with any of the calls that his crew made. However, here are three non-calls that are worth examining, as they may just indicate the direction that the NFL wants other games called moving forward in 2022.
1: No-call for Defensive Pass Interference. Q2, 8:55.
With a little under nine minutes left in the second quarter, the Bills faced a third and four from the Los Angeles 23-yard line. Josh Allen looked left for Gabe Davis, who was covered well by Rams cornerback Troy Hill. Davis broke toward the sideline, and Allen’s throw led him toward the boundary. The throw was too high for Davis, who stumbled as the ball arrived, and the pass fell incomplete.
After the incompletion, both Davis and Allen approached different officials about the play. Obviously, I cannot know the extent of their conversations, but my guess is that they were asking about this:
As the ball approached Davis, Hill slightly tugs on the right side of Davis’ uniform. This action spins Davis’s hips and causes him to stumble as the ball arrives. This is pass interference. I’m guessing that the officials either consciously ruled a no-call or mistakenly missed it because of how quickly Hill releases his grasp on the jersey. Because of the speed, they either thought it was such minimal contact that didn’t warrant a penalty, or they simply didn’t see it.
Nevertheless, by the letter of the law, this should have been called pass interference. However, the officials allowed this level of minor contact in the secondary all night, something I thought unusual from a Cheffers-led crew. It allowed Buffalo’s own secondary to play much more physically than usual, which is a strength to that unit. Given the NFL’s current Point of Emphasis – calling more Illegal Contact penalties to promote passing – I thought this was noteworthy, and something to follow for the rest of the year.
2: No-call for Delay of Game. Q2, 4:54.
Scoreless with 4:54 left in the second quarter, Rams coach Sean McVay elected to go for it on 4th and 2 from the Buffalo Bills’ 28. Quarterback Matthew Stafford took the play clock low and, for a brief moment before the snap, the play clock read zero. The Rams ran a screen play and gained three yards, successfully converting the fourth down.
Mike Tirico, one of the most rules-literate announcers, concisely explained why they didn’t throw a flag. When the play clock hits zero, the Back Judge takes their eyes off the clock to look at the center. If the ball has been snapped, no flag shall be thrown. This split-second delay of the official’s eyes moving from the play clock to the ball often results in situations like this, when the play clock does read zero but the play goes on.
It can be frustrating for defenses, but this has been the mechanic in the NFL forever. It mirrors the way the play is officiated at all levels of football. Sure, the NFL could officiate Delay of Game using replay to make it more exact, but this is the way it’s done. Big props to Tirico for explaining it correctly live; he is typically very good for that.
3: No-call for Taunting. Q4, 9:25.
Stefon Diggs cooked Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey all night. It was a masterclass of route running, hands, and ball placement from his quarterback. It also was a masterclass, it appears, in trash talk, because I am absolutely shocked that Diggs didn’t pick up a taunting penalty.
On the 53-yard touchdown, Diggs caught the ball as he fell across the plane of the end zone. As he was most of the night, Jalen Ramsey was a few steps behind, only catching up to Diggs as the receiver stood back up. Diggs immediately removed his mouthguard, pointed at Ramsey, and then batted his own head. Of course, we cannot know what Diggs said to Ramsey, but actions like these were routinely called for taunting last season.
By allowing this kind of behavior on Thursday, is this indicative of how games will be called over the course of this season? Or did the crew simply choose not to enforce it because it was then a 30-10 game in the fourth quarter on national television?
Only time will tell, but hopefully, it’s the former. Taunting comes with a massive fifteen-yard penalty. Too many times last year, drives were extended or ended by what an official guessed was a taunt. It’s a penalty that officials need to be absolutely certain of the intent in order to call. Given how vocal Diggs often is on the field and by pointing directly at Ramsey, I’m surprised this one wasn’t called. Interestingly, after the Boogie Basham interception on the subsequent drive, Dane Jackson was flagged for taunting, though the replay never showed what he did to deserve it.
The NFL got it right on Thursday night for a variety of reasons. They recognized the hype of the Buffalo Bills back in May, and put them in the kickoff game to show them off. The league also got it right by assigning Carl Cheffers’s crew to the game. The crew went mostly unnoticed, which in officiating, is probably the biggest compliment a crew can receive.
That being said, contact in the secondary and taunting are two things to look for moving forward in 2022. If – and it’s a big if – Thursday night was any indication, perhaps we’ll see fewer taunting flags this year. Illegal Contact is a point of emphasis this year. Taunting was the point of emphasis last year. I look forward to following these two rulings over the course of the year.
I also look forward to following the Buffalo Bills over the course of what hopes to be a magical year. Next week, they host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. The home opener atmosphere should be fantastic, and hopefully the officiating crew is too. Go Bills.
Featured Image: Bob Levey/Getty Images