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Buffalo Bills Rulings Review (2022): Week 16



Buffalo Bills fans got the early gift they were hopeful for on Christmas Eve, with their team beating the Chicago Bears and claiming yet another division crown. Though the Bills won the game 35-13, it was much closer than the score suggested. In fact, the Bills were losing at halftime, and one of the main reasons were the penalties they committed.

It wasn’t surprising to me that the Bills had more penalties than the Bears; Chicago has been one of the cleanest teams in the NFL this season. What I didn’t expect was such a disparity. In the end, the Buffalo Bills had nine penalties for 72 yards. The Bears had two for a measly 15.

Of Buffalo’s penalties, five came on offence for 40 yards. They also had two each on defence and special teams, for 12 and 20 yards respectively. Both of Chicago’s penalties occurred on offence, and there were no declined or offsetting fouls in the game.

The referee for Saturday’s game was Carl Cheffers. Cheffers is one of the NFL’s most esteemed veteran officials, one of only two white hats to have refereed multiple Super Bowls.

He is also consistently near the top of the list in terms of penalties-per-game. This year, Cheffers’s crew has called the most penalties. Last year, they led the league as well. In 2020, they had the second most flags-per-game.

It is therefore not surprising that Buffalo committed seven penalties, especially when four of them were offensive holding infractions. This is a troubling trend. Buffalo has the fifth-most offensive holding penalties this season. It sure hasn’t helped that their travel and practice schedules have been recently upended.

As it’s the Christmas holidays and (aside from one glaring mistake) all nine of the penalties seemed like good rulings, I’ll shorten your mandatory reading to only three plays this week. I really hope that means next week’s post-Bengals article isn’t extended to seven…

1.) Confusing Signal from Field Judge. Q2, 13:10

On Josh Allen’s first interception, cornerback Kyler Gordon disguised his coverage well and Josh Allen thought he would have Isaiah McKenzie open on a corner route. Gordon dropped back late and intercepted a ball that hung up in the wind. It was a really athletic catch, with Gordon falling to the ground in his own endzone, before getting back up and returning the ball to the Chicago 34.

Because I watch the games with a group of friends who scream and shout at the television (to say nothing of myself), I can’t always hear the announcers or whistles. That’s made me hyperaware to watch the officials for their signals. On this play, the field judge, perhaps thinking that Gordon wanted to take a touchback in lieu of a return, signals the ball dead.

The field judge runs onto the field at the goal line waving his arms, the universal signal for “the play is over.” Weirdly, it doesn’t appear that he hits the whistle, as you can’t hear it in the broadcast. No whistle is the correct ruling. Gordon wasn’t touched, and is entirely within his rights to return the ball.

I’m not really sure what to think here. It was a really poor job of signalling. If a Buffalo Bills player saw the field judge, perhaps he wouldn’t have pursued Gordon and mistakenly thought the play dead. But since he didn’t hit the whistle, good on him?

2.) Offensive Holding, Buffalo. Q3, 5:53.

You’ll find me agreeing with 3/4 of Buffalo’s offensive holding fouls from Saturday, but this one is just plain wrong. On a 2nd and 3, Josh Allen scrambled up the middle and was able to pick up a first down. Unfortunately, the play was negated by a holding foul called on Spencer Brown.

This isn’t holding. Defensive end Taco Charlton took a wide path to the quarterback, slipped, and Brown finished the block on the ground. Brown used Charlton’s own momentum to his benefit, and managed to get the pass rusher on the turf without holding him. This is a legitimately horrible ruling.

3.) Premature Whistle. Q3, 4:35.

Not only was the previous holding penalty horrendous in a vacuum, it was worse because it was a drive killer. Two plays after a nullified first down gain, the Buffalo Bills were forced to punt. Sam Martin hit a good one, which bounced at the 20 yard line and continued to roll toward the end zone. The ball slowed at the 13 but never came to a complete stop, before the wind got ahold of it and blew the ball to the 4.

As the ball slowed but didn’t stop at the 13, the officials erroneously blew the play dead. This gave Chicago starting field position there, at the 13, instead of when the ball actually came to rest at the 4.

While this is poor officiating from the official who blew the play dead, it shows me a lack of preparation from the crew as a whole. They knew going into the game that there was potential for gale force winds. When you have an uncommon situation that might impact a specific play (like weather), you talk about it before the game with your crew.

Just like an umpiring crew having a pregame chat about a wonky outfield fence or those horrendous catwalks in St. Petersburg, this crew should have talked about wind affecting punts and field goals. The fact that the official prematurely blew the play dead suggests that they did not.


It’s extremely difficult for me to accurately judge this officiating crew in this game. Without the ability to watch every single Bears offensive snap, I can’t say whether they should’ve been flagged more than once for offensive holding. Sometimes large discrepancies in fouls happen, and all but the aforementioned Spencer Brown penalty seemed like the right call against Buffalo.

Ultimately, my takeaway is that Buffalo needs to be cleaner. I’m hopeful that will happen with a complete week of practice and a more consistent travel schedule. While they overcame four potential drive-killing offensive holding fouls against Chicago, I’m not sure they can do it against Cincinnati.

Next week is a big one. The final Monday Night Football game of the season. Two very good teams. I’d expect one of the NFL’s best crews, and I’d sure hope for an accurate and consistent game from them. Go Bills.

Featured Image: Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Blake Parnham is a sports official and a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan. Blake is an advocate for reducing the abuse directed at officials in amateur sport. On gameday, you can find him in his backyard at the Bills Helmet Bar, in Keswick, Ontario.