Week 4 connotes exactly one year of me writing these articles. I started after the Texans–Bills game in 2021 and have written a piece after each game (save the KC Divisional loss; it was too painful to review, and the officials did a great job anyways). While Week 4 of 2021 was your run-of-the-mill 40-0 curb stomping and there wasn’t really much to say, Week 4 of 2022 was legitimately one of the weirdest games I’ve seen in a while. The Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens are both great teams, and both were made sloppy and inconsistent due to the weather. Jerome Boger, who is tied as the NFL’s longest-tenured active referee, was assigned to the game and it was… interesting?
The Ravens, however, had more penalties and more penalty yardage on Sunday than in their first three games combined. They had six offensive penalties for 45 yards, two defensive penalties for 20 yards, and one special teams infraction for 5 yards. Additionally, they committed two – yes two – defensive holding penalties that were declined by the Bills. It really can happen, I guess!?
Jerome Boger last called a Buffalo Bills game in Week 2 of 2020, a wild 31-28 Bills win at the Miami Dolphins. For this reason, I’m not incredibly familiar with his crew’s trends and tendencies. In the very small sample size that is the 2022 season, his crew lies dead in the middle of both flags-per-game and penalty yardage-per-game.
Boger, along with referee Carl Cheffers, are the two most experienced referees in the NFL, each being appointed to the referee position in 2009. I expected a better game from such a veteran official, but, as I’ve said, weather can be a strange thing sometimes. There are several important plays I’d like to talk about here, and for the first time in a while, a bunch of the bad rulings benefitted the Bills. Here are my five plays from Week 4:
1. No call for Defensive Pass Interference: Q1, 10:21.
It’s pretty wild that, despite being less than five minutes into the game, the Buffalo Bills had turned the ball over, the Ravens had scored, and the Bills were at the edge of the red zone looking to tie the game up. This was a 3rd and 7 from the Baltimore 20, and Josh Allen targeted Isaiah McKenzie on a slant route on the left. The ball was right there, but so was cornerback Brandon Stephens.
As you can see here, Stephens contacts McKenzie before the ball arrives. This is defensive pass interference, though it wasn’t flagged. Instead of an automatic first down, the Buffalo Bills had a 4th and 7, and Tyler Bass’s 38-yard field goal gave them points. It was a big missed defensive pass interference that ended a drive.
2. No call for Defensive Pass Interference. Q2, 2:00.
Here, we see another big missed defensive pass interference that ended a drive. This time, the Ravens had a 3rd and 5 from their own 20. Up 17 points and receiving the ball in the second half, points here could have pretty well sealed the game for the Ravens. This was the first play after the two minute warning, and could have blown open the whole game.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson targeted wide receiver Demarcus Robinson on a very similar route to McKenzie’s, just on the right side of the formation. As the ball neared, Jordan Poyer closed in on Robinson and hammered him well before the ball arrived.
This is also defensive pass interference. To be honest, this one is more egregious than the no-call that benefitted Baltimore. You can shrug and say “well, at least they’re consistent,” but consistency is not the same as accuracy. Both of these calls were wrong, and with the NFL specifically wanting these calls made to promote passing and scoring, it’s shocking that they were both missed.
3. No call for Unnecessary Roughness. Q3, 5:04.
This is the play that Isaiah McKenzie was injured on. There’s multiple layers to it, so stick with me on this one.
McKenzie caught a slant route over the middle of the field. Brandon Stephens, who was in good position just behind the Buffalo Bills WR, tried to tackle him as soon as the ball arrives. Safety Geno Stone, who ran to assist in the tackle, hit McKenzie in the helmet with his shoulder, knocking the ball loose after McKenzie hit the ground. As a result of the play, McKenzie sustained a concussion.
The key element to this play is was McKenzie “a runner” or “a defenseless receiver”? If McKenzie is considered a runner here, there can be no foul for a hit to the head of a defenseless receiver. Likewise, if he’s a runner, he did maintain possession of the ball throughout the catch process. If that’s the ruling, then McKenzie caught the ball, picked up the first down, but was concussed on a clean hit.
CBS broadcaster Charles Davis tried to explain the play, but got the rule wrong. He said that the moment McKenzie gets his second foot down on the catch, he became a runner. It’s close, but per the rulebook, a defenseless player is, among other players, “A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner.” There is no provision for the amount of steps a potential receiver has taken. He becomes a runner when he is “capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact with an opponent.”
McKenzie plainly did not have that time to avoid the contact to his head. This is unnecessary roughness. However, because McKenzie did not have sufficient time to become a runner, the fact that he lost the ball while going to ground is relevant. If he is not a runner, he failed to secure the ball during the process of the catch. This should have been ruled an incomplete pass, nullified by the 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
4. Spot of the Ball. Q3, 2:06.
This is the play that everyone talked about after the game. Fortunately for the Ravens, it didn’t matter, as they picked up the first down on the next play. Unfortunately, however, they really could’ve used that timeout they lost.
On a 3rd and 6, Lamar Jackson scrambled for what appeared to be a first down. Kaiir Elam pushed him out of bounds right at the sticks. As he was going to the sideline, Jackson stretched the ball out, and appeared to get enough for the first down.
If Jackson reached the ball forward while the ball had already crossed the sideline, that action is irrelevant. The ball would come back to the spot on the field where it crossed the plane of the sideline. Just judging by his body position, he is still in bounds. Why would he take the ball out of bounds to stretch it forward?
It looked like a conclusive first down live, and even more so when Coach John Harbaugh challenged the spot. I understand that officials miss things on the field. I have no idea how New York didn’t overturn this.
5. Roughing the Passer, Baltimore. Q4, 2:06.
I’m going to talk about two plays here. One was ruled roughing the passer and one wasn’t.
The first one happened with 11 minutes to go in the first quarter. It was not a penalty, but you can clearly see Josh Allen point at referee Jerome Boger and look for the flag. Perhaps because of this, roughing the passer was in the back of Boger’s mind on the second play, which happened late in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Allen again pointed in the referee’s direction, and this time a flag was thrown.
I really don’t like the call. If you’ve passed on the first one, you should pass on the second one, just like the crew did on the two no-calls for defensive pass interference I talked about. There’s an argument to be made that Brandon Stephens let up and then lunged at Allen, but he avoided putting his whole weight on the quarterback. The barometer is “would I be pissed off if this was called against the Bills?” The answer is yes, all the way.
This was a weird game, and a very weirdly called game. The crew was wrong but consistent at defensive pass interference and wrong but inconsistent at roughing the passer. I don’t know what to make of it other than a simple thought: Are we the team that gets the big calls now?
Sometimes, you get unlucky. The Buffalo Bills were unlucky a lot in their brief “they-can’t-win-close-games” narrative from this past week. In Baltimore, they got lucky, at least with the way Jerome Boger’s crew called the game. Not much more to it than that.
Next week, the Bills return home to take on a pretty bad Steelers team. A rookie quarterback will be making his first start in a hostile environment against a fantastic defense. All signs are looking up, but it is the NFL and, on any given Sunday, weird things can happen. We saw it last week.
Featured Image: Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images