The game before the bye week is always an important one, both for the Buffalo Bills and my sanity. Last year, the Bills lost a heartbreaker in Tennessee before the week off. The year prior to that, they lost an even bigger heartbreaker with the Hail Murray. This year, winning before the bye was even more important because Buffalo’s opponent was the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bills took care of business in Kansas City, exorcizing at least some of the demons from last year’s Divisional playoff game. Buffalo won the game 24-20. The national football media, unsurprisingly, cannot stop talking about the Bills and Chiefs and what the result means in the AFC. Unfortunately, many in the media have talked at length of the third team on the field on Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead: the officials.
The Buffalo Bills-Kansas City Chiefs matchup was the biggest game on the NFL schedule this regular season. It’s the game that everyone wanted to watch, and for good reason. It’s also the game that every official employed by the NFL wanted to work. Brad Allen’s crew got the job.
They were not strong on Sunday. There were some egregious misses, sloppy mechanics, and some apparent confusion at times during the game.
At least the penalty distribution was fairly balanced. Buffalo had more fouls but fewer penalty yards; seven for 35. They had two offensive penalties for 12 yards, four defensive penalties for 20, and one special teams block-in-the-back that set them behind only 3 yards, as it was a half-the-distance flag. Meanwhile, Kansas City had five penalties for 58 yards. Four came on offense for 35 yards, and one big defensive pass interference penalty cost them 23.
But this article largely won’t be about the penalties that were called. I thought the worst flag that Allen’s crew threw actually benefitted the Bills, to be honest. Here, I’ll be touching more on the crew’s mechanics and the penalties that weren’t called.
Here are my five plays from Sunday’s game:
1. Fumble vs. Incompletion. Q1, 9:51.
I’m fairly confident every Buffalo Bills fan watching the game swore at their screen on the weird aborted fumble play with Isaiah McKenzie on the opening drive. McKenzie lined up in the backfield, and Allen looked like he wanted to hand the ball off to the wide receiver, but McKenzie didn’t take it. Then, weirdly, Allen flipped the ball to McKenzie, who wasn’t expecting it, and Chiefs linebacker Darius Harris fell on top of it.
I knew it was a fumble, you knew it was a fumble. Strangely, Brad Allen’s crew didn’t. On close plays such as this, officials are taught to call a fumble by default, because every turnover play is automatically reviewed. Instead, the crew ruled incomplete, which confused everyone I was watching with. It seemed like Chiefs coach Andy Reid would have to burn a challenge for the correct ruling to be made.
But then, moments later, Allen announced to the crowd that “after discussion, the ruling on the field had been changed”. Discussion with whom? It seemed to me that this was another sky judge ruling, similar to the change in the Pittsburgh game the previous week, when the sky judge correctly changed a catch to an obvious incompletion.
If this is the case, I like what the sky judge is doing. If any clear and obvious, black and white mistake can be quickly changed by an official buzzing down to the referee, I think the game is better for it. Games will run faster and errors will be fixed. It just needs to be used consistently and the protocol needs to be cleared up for fans.
2. Spot of the ball. Q2, 5:12.
Who would have thought that Week 6 would bring with it not one, but two duplicate discussion points?! We’ve also seen this situation before, back in the Week 2 Tennessee Titans game. Then, just as on Sunday, the chain crew advanced the chains on what they thought was a first down, only for them to be brought back.
It was unclear from the broadcast whether the officiating crew signaled for the chain crew to create a fresh set of downs. Either way, it looks sloppy, and it upset Andy Reid on Sunday as much as it upset Sean McDermott in Week 2. On this 3rd and 10, quarterback Patrick Mahomes hit running back Jerick McKinnon on a quick dump off pass. McKinnon sprinted to the sticks. And although, on first glance, it looked like he gained 10 yards, he was short.
Again, not sure why the crew moved the sticks at first, but they correctly signaled 4th down. It is infuriating for coaches, players, and fans to initially think their team has a first down, but in a roundabout way, the crew eventually got it right. The Bills deservedly forced a punt.
3. Offensive Pass Interference. Q4, 12:56.
I think a fair way for fans to analyze calls is the default “would I hate it if that call went against my team?” On this play, the answer is unequivocally yes.
It’s not the first time the Buffalo Bills have benefitted from a questionable offensive pass interference foul on their opponent’s elite tight end. In Week 4, Ravens tight end Mark Andrews was flagged for a push off at the Bills goal line, negating what would have been a first and goal from the 1.
On Sunday, tight end Travis Kelce tried to create space by pushing Kaiir Elam as he made the break in his route. This is a slight extension of the arm and Elam is knocked off balance for a brief moment, but damn, I’d hate Dawson Knox to be flagged for this, wouldn’t you?
4. No call for tripping. Q4, 8:30.
It’s an unfair life that officials live. You can call a fairly strong game for 51-and-a-half minutes and you make one colossal error, and that’s all that people will remember.
To this point, I thought Allen’s crew were… alright? It wasn’t his fault that the CBS broadcast failed to replay any of the defensive holding fouls on Buffalo. They might be the correct calls? So, to this point, I really didn’t have a problem with the way the game was being officiated.
It changed here. I have absolutely no idea what Brad Allen was looking at. Perhaps, he was singularly looking at Josh Allen’s head (with the heightened focus on quarterback concussions) but he’s in a perfect spot to see the trip. Maybe he thought that David Quessenberry pushed Chris Jones so hard that the pass rusher’s leg just innocently kicked out?
There’s not much else to say about the play other than that. Just like that, poof. A decent officiating performance is gone, and cannot come back. Like it or not, that’s how it works in this business.
5. No call for Illegal Block in the Back. Q4, 7:51.
This was the very next play. Following the trip, the Buffalo Bills had a 4th and 21, an obvious punt situation. Sam Martin hit another boomer, which, seemingly unsurprisingly, was muffed by the returner. The field judge saw the ball on the ground, and his focus went to returner Mecole Hardman, wanting to see if the returner would pick up the ball. Because of this, he missed an absolutely blatant block in the back.
Siran Neal is an exceptional gunner on punt plays. Chiefs corner Zayne Anderson, who had been called up from the practice squad, was assigned to block Neal. Neal managed to get by Anderson, who pushed him in the back as he closed in on Hardman, after the returner had picked up the ball.
This is a bad miss, particularly when the crew had correctly called a block in the back on the Bills on a punt play earlier. It’s an even worse miss knowing that it came one play after the missed tripping infraction.
In totality, perhaps Brad Allen’s crew didn’t have their best game. From start to finish it was… alright? But when you – as the crew chief referee – have one of the biggest misses of the season in the biggest regular season game of the season, there’s no coming back from that. Had the Buffalo Bills lost the game, the missed tripping foul supersedes many of the probable narratives for the duration of the bye week. “What if it were called correctly? Could the Bills have won the game?”
This is exactly what the NFL does not want. The NFL wants its product, namely its two most marketable quarterbacks, to be the stars of the show and the only talking points the next day. A miss as bad as the tripping foul could have been the lasting memory from that game had the Bills lost. And that’s not good for business.
Enjoy the bye week, friends. There’s a lot of football left to play. May there be good vibes, good calls, and lots of games in Orchard Park in January. Go Bills.
Featured Image: Yahoo Sports