It’d really be nice if we could win one of these “games of the year,” wouldn’t it? The Buffalo Bills met up with the Minnesota Vikings in Orchard Park on Sunday. It was an objectively incredible football game; one that Buffalo could have, and probably should have, won. Unfortunately, though they had numerous opportunities to end the game, each time, a player didn’t make a play. Luckily, it’s only November but man, add another one to the heartbreak list.
Despite the pain and suffering we all endured, there is a funny stat to come from the game. Both Buffalo and Minnesota committed seven penalties for 64 yards. What’s more, both teams committed the same number of offensive, defensive and special teams penalties, with three, three, and one each. But it gets spookier. Buffalo and Minnesota had the same amount of penalty yards in each category too; 25 offensive, 34 defensive and 5 special teams penalty yards.
Although it really doesn’t matter to the game, I hope this weird coincidence might’ve made you chuckle.
For the first time since last December, I was actually in the stands for a Buffalo Bills game. Live, it’s really hard to accurately judge the plays from an officiating perspective. Upon re-watching the game (yes, I did that so you don’t have to), it appears referee Craig Wrolstad and his crew called a decent game.
There were a few strange plays and sloppy work from the booth and sky judge, but the crew sure wasn’t to blame for Buffalo’s loss. However, had the result been different… I would not have been happy to be a Vikings fan.
Here are this week’s five plays:
1.) Concussion Protocol. Q3, 7:49.
Let’s start in the second half. At this point, the Vikings were down 14 points. This play was a 2nd and 4 from the Minnesota 43, and the Vikings offense weirdly ran a QB bootleg to the right side, right into Von Miller.
Miller ran straight for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who had tight end T.J. Hockenson open on what appeared to be a broken screen play. Hockenson caught the ball facing his quarterback, turned upfield, and was immediately hit by Taron Johnson and Jordan Phillips. By turning and making a football move prior to contact, Hockenson is no longer a defenseless player and is instead a runner.
To finish him off, Tyrel Dodson ran at the tight end, who was fighting for yardage. Dodson’s full force collided with Hockenson’s helmet, and he fell onto his back, unmoving. Though the camera pans away quickly, I do remember this play from the stands. Hockenson laid on the ground for five-or-so seconds before being helped to his feet.
This delay was one of the reasons why the Vikings didn’t get the next snap off in time. Coach Kevin O’Connell had to use one of his timeouts before the 3rd and 5. After the short break, the Vikings lined up for the play when, just as it was a minute earlier, the officials blew the play dead. Craig Wrolstad announced the stoppage was due to a medical issue, and Hockenson was brought off the field and into the medical tent.
Two minutes and five seconds in real-time passed between the hit from Dodson and the NFL Office buzzing in to the game officials. Though this is an improvement from previous years, where the NFL was unable to make this medical decision from above, it’s still morbidly unacceptable. Fortunately for Hockenson, no snaps occurred between the possible injury and leaving the field, but that was due to a timeout. What if there had been? What if he’d had another collision?
Ultimately, Hockenson came back into the game later. It was obviously determined that he hadn’t suffered a concussion. Though this is absolutely not a fault or failure of Wrolstad’s crew, it was noteworthy to discuss. Hopefully, as the concussion protocol becomes more stringent, it won’t take two minutes to notice.
2.) Catch vs. Incompletion. Q4, 00:24.
After such lengthy commentary about the Hockenson injury, I’ll make this one pretty succinct: Gabe Davis didn’t catch this ball, and it’s inexcusable that the booth didn’t stop the play to review it. Even after the game, Senior VP of Officiating Walt Anderson said the play would’ve been reversed to an incompletion if the replay official stopped play.
Granted, the Buffalo Bills did a good job of rushing to the line. It took only 17 real-life seconds between Davis hitting the ground and Josh Allen taking the next snap. But, even if you’re 90% sure it’s a catch, there’s no harm in stopping the play and confirming the call. The clock was stopped anyways, since Davis fell out of bounds.
3.) Defensive Pass Interference, Minnesota. Q4, 00:11.
I didn’t select this play for it’s correctness or incorrectness, but the timing implications of it. With 11 seconds left in the game, Gabe Davis beat Andrew Booth Jr. on his route to the end zone. Recognizing the situation, Booth stuck out an arm and impeded Davis’s progress while the ball was in the air. Davis couldn’t even come close to make a play on the ball, and defensive pass interference was correctly called.
It was a smart decision by Booth, honestly. The cornerback grabbed Davis as he made his break, not when the wide reciever was making the play on the ball. As such, the penalty was enforced from that spot – the 11-yard line – and not the end zone, where the contested catch would have occurred.
With only five seconds left in the game, it would have been outrageously risky for Buffalo to try one last play into the end zone. Instead, Sean McDermott elected to try a 29-yard field goal and send the game to overtime, which happened.
4.) No Call for 12 Men. Q5, 4:32.
On a first and goal from the 2-yard line and the Vikings able to win the game with a touchdown, the Buffalo Bills had twelve players on the field. Yes, it’s easier to miss this penalty when all the defensive players are lined up along the line of scrimmage. But it should never be missed – ever. Especially when the NFL is relying so much on a sky judge to fix clear and obvious errors. There’s no reason why the booth shouldn’t be able to fix this mistake.
5.) No call for Defensive Pass Interference. Q5, 1:25.
I’m really, truly alright with this no-call. Freezing my ass off in the opposite end zone, sure, I wanted pass interference. But watching the replay before the heart-breaking interception, I thought it was an alright decision to not through a flag.
We are all fans of a sport with a disconnect between the rulebook and the interpretations in real time. In baseball, there are balls and strikes, safe and out. In soccer, if a player’s toe passes the second-last defender when the ball is kicked, he’s offside. Some of these plays have no judgement involved, but pass interference is not one of those plays.
Cornerback Duke Shelley had his hands on Dawson Knox before the ball arrives. He had turned to face the play, and Knox’s momentum took him backwards, away from the ball. If Knox had moved towards the pass and been pulled backwards, then I think we see a flag. But how much of that movement was momentum and how much was the corner? I don’t know, and I’m comfortable with a no call because of it.
Ultimately, the Buffalo Bills should not have put themselves in that position. If you knock down a 4th and 18, successfully snap a football, don’t throw two interceptions in the end zone, prevent an 81-yard rushing touchdown…
Wrolstad’s crew was not the reason why Buffalo lost the game. But, had they won, there’s an argument to be made they would’ve been integral in Minnesota losing. Messing up the Gabe Davis ruling (even if the booth should’ve corrected it, and failed) and the 12-men non-call were key mistakes, but fortunately for the crew, they didn’t impact the outcome.
Hopefully the Buffalo Bills can get themselves right. With two games in less than two weeks, now is the time. We’ll see what happens.
Featured Image: Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports