After a weird week of limited practice and an unexpected flight to Detroit, the Buffalo Bills met up with the Cleveland Browns in Michigan. All three Lake Erie Bros united for an afternoon of football, with the Bills winning 31-23.
Though technically a one-score game, the Bills truly dominated the second half. The Browns scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes in a game that was not as close as the score suggested.
Adrian Hill led Sunday’s officiating crew. Strangely, despite having been a crew chief for just over three-and-a-half seasons, this was Hill’s first Bills game. I’d generously wager that it was the poorest officiating performance of any Bills game all season.
For Buffalo, it represented both the highest number of penalties and the most penalty yardage in a game all season. To be fair, this was somewhat expected with the lack of practice and preparedness for the game. Buffalo committed eight penalties for 89 yards. They had two offensive penalties for 20 yards, six defensive penalties for 69 yards, two declined fouls, and one that offset a Browns infraction.
Cleveland committed six penalties for 42 yards. Four were on offense for 17 yards. They had a roughing the passer foul on defense for 15, and an additional hold on a special teams punt for 10 yards.
The discrepancies in penalties and yardage is not the reason why I think Hill and his crew did a poor job. The difference in fouls is not significant; the inconsistency was. These are the five plays from the Browns-Bills game:
1.) No Call on Illegal Block Below the Waist. Q1, 4:23.
This is a relatively new rule that has been inconsistently administered since its inception last season. Starting in 2021, the NFL created a new term called the “Tight End Box”. This space is defined as two yards on either side of the offensive tackles and five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage. Beginning last year, this is the only area on the field where offensive linemen can cut their assignment and defensive players can go low on blockers.
That would, logically, mean that this play should have been a foul:
On this 2nd and 2 play, Spencer Brown is the pulling blocker on a pitch play to James Cook. Understandably, cornerback Denzel Ward did not want to get run over by a metaphorical freight train coming right at him, and so he went low on Brown. While Brown was within five yards of the line of scrimmage, he was decidedly more than two yards outside of his starting position as the right tackle, and by extension, outside of the “Tight End Box”.
This is a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for Buffalo. If you rewatch the video, Brown knows it, and expressed as much to the line judge.
2.) No Call for Unnecessary Roughness. Q2, 00:46.
I can understand the frustration from Josh Allen and his teammates here, but this is not a penalty. By rule, there cannot be a penalty for a late hit out of bounds until a player goes out of bounds. Even then, there needs to be significant contact to warrant a foul. In the video, Josh Allen’s left foot has not come down on the sideline yet, making him legally in the field of play.
Of course, it’s still a scummy play by linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. I’m sure he knew that Allen’s right elbow was not 100%, and thought he could knock the ball loose for a fumble. Sure, it’s a play that could possibly injure a quarter-billion dollar man, but it’s not illegal.
3.) No call for Facemask. Q3, 11:46.
One play after Devin Singletary was legally thrown down along the sideline, the Bills called a reverse play to new running back Nyheim Hines. Defensive end Jadaveon Clowney made a good read. However, he went high on Hines, and at first glance, it looked like he grabbed his facemask.
The replay was unclear about Clowney tugging on the facemask but he definitively grabs the ear hole of the helmet. Although the penalty is commonly known as “grasping the facemask,” the infraction relates to an opponent grabbing and manipulating any opening of the helmet. Grabbing both ear holes and twisting a player to the ground would constitute a 15-yard penalty.
Unfortunately, despite Adrian Hill’s solid positioning on the play, he missed it. This miss not only cost the Buffalo Bills 15 yards, but they were slow in getting to the line of scrimmage on the next play, and burned a timeout as well.
4.) Defensive Pass Interference, Buffalo. Q3, 4:08.
Sitting high in the upper deck of Ford Field, I had a great look at this play. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones ran a great corner route, leaving Damar Hamlin as the single high safety to cover the play. Hamlin closed exceptionally fast on the ball and contorted his body so that he could avoid Peoples-Jones in an attempt to break up the pass. Unfortunately, Hamlin slightly grabbed the receiver’s hip with his left arm first. A flag was thrown by the field judge.
This type of play is routinely a non-call in the NFL. By rule, it is a penalty. However, the subjective nature of defensive pass interference/holding/illegal contact routinely allows this to be a no-call. How many times have we talked about this play, this year alone, being a no-call against the Bills?
What’s more, how the heck does Field Judge Mearl Robinson get this? The second replay in the clip is a similar view to what Robinson would have seen. There’s no way he can see the grab and hip twist. What’s telling is Back Judge Keith Ferguson saw the play, did not throw a flag, and signaled incomplete. He intervened and had a lengthy conversation with Robinson and Adrian Hill, but the crew ultimately decided to stick with the flag.
If Ferguson was that convinced the play did not warrant a foul, I’m disappointed that he didn’t insist on picking up the penalty marker.
5. Offensive Pass Interference, Buffalo (Declined). Q4, 6:53.
I feel like people aren’t talking about this play for two reasons: (1) the penalty was declined and (2) the CBS broadcast did not show a replay. You’ll have to trust me though, because Ford Field did.
I’m not convinced that Diggs’s arm extension warranted a penalty here at all. If this is a foul, then there will be no such thing as separation in the modern NFL.
Fortunately, it had no impact on the outcome of the game; the pass was incomplete and the Buffalo Bills kicked a field goal anyway.
This was a poorly officiated football game. Adrian Hill’s crew had very little consistency on contact downfield while the ball was in the air. Additionally, although I couldn’t get to it, they were fairly inconsistent at offensive holding as well. (I think they missed two on the Buffalo Bills. I’m not being a homer)
Hill is one of the lesser experienced referees in the NFL. He was hired as a crew chief in 2019 along with Brad Rogers and Scott Novak. None of the three have worked a playoff game as a referee. It will be interesting come January to see which, if any, get their first.
With a (technically) primetime game upcoming against the Detroit Lions, I’d expect the NFL to put more senior crews on Bills-Lions, Giants-Cowboys and Patriots-Vikings. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and Go Bills.
Featured Image: Yahoo Sports