Sean McDermott has never lost the game following Buffalo’s bye week. When the schedule came out, we all thought his record could be in jeopardy. The Buffalo Bills drew the Green Bay Packers in their first post-bye game. Aaron Rodgers had won two consecutive MVP awards, and the Packers finished the past two seasons as the NFC #1 seed.
But over the first half of 2022, the Packers have struggled. They came into Western New York having dropped three in a row and, on Sunday Night Football, the Bills made it four.
From an officiating perspective, Packers-Bills was a fairly straightforward contest. The Bills went up early, and rather than trying to throw the ball down field, the Packers seemed content to run the ball (and the clock). The Bills seemed alright with that too, making for a quick, comfortable game for the officiating crew.
It certainly helped that the crew is one of the best in the business. Ron Torbert was assigned as the referee, his first Bills game since last year’s Houston-Buffalo game. Torbert was last year’s Super Bowl referee and is one of the most respected officials in the game.
On Sunday, his crew called 12 penalties for 93 yards. The Buffalo Bills committed only four of those for 35 yards; two on offense for 25, and two on defense for 10. There was an additional 5-yard penalty on Buffalo that was declined.
The Green Bay Packers committed the remaining eight penalties for 58 yards. Two came on offense for 15, a whopping five happened on defense for 35, and they had one special teams penalty for 8 yards.
Due to the nature of the game, there weren’t a lot of controversial rulings. Even though the crew ejected a player, it was a pretty straightforward disqualification. But I’m here to do a job, and you’re here to, hopefully, learn a thing or two. Here are the five plays from Week 8:
1. Illegal Use of Hands, Buffalo. Q2, 9:19
When officiating, there’s an old saying within crews that “we want to make the first call of the game a good one.” The last thing an official wants to do is have a soft or weak or controversial first flag of the game. From an emotional perspective, one team will be frustrated right out of the gate. But from a practical perspective, you’ve essentially informed teams that this call is the standard that the crew is going to use all game for assessing contact. If it’s a weak first foul of the game, well, it should be a weak foul in the second half as well.
However, as the game goes on and the crew hasn’t called a penalty, you start to get that feeling in the back of your mind. “Are we missing something? It’s been 20 minutes of football and we haven’t thrown a flag.” I think that may have been what happened here. On this 1st and 10 play, Ed Oliver bull rushed the interior and took down quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a sack. But, on the far side of the field, the first flag of the game came out.
I’m not even remotely convinced this is illegal hands to the face. I think Dane Jackson tried to jam wide receiver Sammy Watkins high, succeeded, and was wrongly flagged. Perhaps it was because more than 20 mins of game time had elapsed without a flag, and the crew briefly lost its discipline and went looking for something.
Either way, they set the bar for what is and what is not an illegal hands to the face flag here. If something similar happened later – rightly or wrongly – they would have to call it.
2. Disqualification, Green Bay. Q2, 4:07.
On this play, James Cook had a nifty run to the left side of the formation and was pushed out of bounds by linebacker Quay Walker. Both players fell to the ground out of bounds, and Walker landed at the feet of a Bills coach. The coach braced himself for contact, and then attempted to help Walker up off the ground before turning his attention to Cook.
Walker felt someone helping him off the turf and immediately turned and shoved the coach. This play happened directly in front of field judge Ryan Dickson, who correctly threw a flag.
Dickson, referee Ron Torbert, and umpire Mark Pellis got together to discuss the infraction. Ironically, during the discussion, Pellis’s microphone accidentally turned on as he asked Dickson, “the player hit a coach, right?” The NBC broadcast captured that sound bite, so the fans had a good idea what was coming.
After this, Torbert appeared to confirm with his crew. You can read his lips. “Okay, so the player hit a coach right? Okay. Number seven? Okay.” And then he announced a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Quay Walker.
But, over the next twenty seconds, before Buffalo snapped the ball for its next play, the NFL office was reviewing the play. Cris Colinsworth, as much as we make fun of him, correctly explained what was happening. Per the NFL rulebook, “designated members of the Officiating department may… conduct a replay review, or advise game officials on specific, objective aspects of a play… including penalty enforcement.”
As Colinsworth and NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay said, NFL Head of Football Operations Troy Vincent has the final decision on upgrading unsportsmanlike conduct fouls to disqualification. In the video room, Vincent and his team thought that the crew made an objective error in not disqualifying Walker, so they buzzed in to the crew to remove him from the game.
This is the third example in seven Buffalo Bills games of the “sky judge” fixing a clear and obvious mistake from the crew. Slowly but surely, it seems that the NFL Officiating Department is figuring out how to effectively use this technology. With how unsuccessful VAR has been in soccer, it was not a given that they’d get it right, so I’ll give them credit.
But still – the on-field crew were literally talking about how a player hit a coach. It’s a little disconcerting for Walker to have not been disqualified right away.
3. Offensive Pass Interference, Green Bay. Q3, 10:34.
This was a 3rd and 3 play from the Buffalo 10. Down 24-7, Aaron Rodgers wanted a touchdown to get back into the game. Tight end Robert Tonyan was covered by Kaiir Elam on the play, and Tonyan briefly extended his arm as he made his break.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before… A very similar play happened in the Bills-Chiefs game before the bye week, when tight end Travis Kelce was flagged for offensive pass interference. After the Chiefs game, I said that I would hate it if Dawson Knox picked up that penalty. I feel the same way about Tonyan’s foul.
Just as Kelce did, Tonyan tried to create space by slightly extending his arm into Kaiir Elam. It knocks Elam off balance, and he’s unable to play the ball. Is it offensive pass interference? By definition: yes. However, I’d also yell at my screen if it was called on Knox.
4. Defensive Holding, Green Bay. Q3, 10:14.
There’s not much to this play. It’s the correct call. The only reason I’m including it is because, for the first time since Dolphins–Bills 2021, the Buffalo Bills benefitted from a defensive holding foul. Sure, their opponents had been flagged for defensive holding in the intermediary, but the Bills didn’t accept any of them.
The Bills literally went 364 days without benefitting from a defensive holding foul before this one. That’s unheard of. Our long nightmare is over. Here’s the play if you want to watch it:
5. Illegal Use of Hands, Green Bay. Q4, 14:03.
Remember the first foul I mentioned (and the first foul of the game)? The crew pigeonholed itself, setting the standard for illegal use of hands so low that anything nearing it had to be called.
Just like the foul on Dane Jackson, I’m not convinced this is illegal hands either. But, consistency is key. If you get the first one, you have to get the second one. Fortunately, both fouls took away big plays by the defense. The foul on Jackson negated a sack by Ed Oliver, and the foul here on defensive back Rasul Douglas took away a third down stop.
Overall, this was a solid game from Torbert and his crew, something expected from one of the better referees in the game. Sure, there were some blips, but there always will be. Despite an early mistake, the crew kept it consistent with illegal hands, and even though they erred in not disqualifying Quay Walker right away, technology had their back. It was a really great job on a fairly straightforward game.
Next week, the Buffalo Bills head to New Jersey to take on the Jets. Let’s keep the post-bye week trend of great performances – by the Bills and the officials – going. See you Sunday.
Featured Image: AP Photo/Adrian Kraus