On Sunday afternoon in New Jersey, the Buffalo Bills played a stinker, falling to the New York Jets 20-17. It is the second consecutive Week 9 Bills loss, after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road the year before. It was also the second consecutive year that Land Clark’s officiating crew has called Buffalo’s eighth game of the year.
Unlike last year, when Buffalo racked up a season-high twelve penalties, they played a relatively clean game. The Bills had a season-low three penalties for only 30 yards; one big offensive holding call for 10 yards, and two defensive penalties for 20.
The Jets also only had three penalties, also for 30 yards. They had a false start on offense for 5 yards and two special teams penalties for the remaining 25.
Of these six penalties, I’d argue that only one was remotely controversial. However, there were a few non-calls and one spot-of-the-ball issue that are worth discussing. Here are this week’s five plays:
1.) Spot of the Ball. Q2, 5:58
This is the third time this type of play has happened in a Buffalo Bills game this year. It was a 2nd and 1 play, and quarterback Zach Wilson handed off to running back James Robinson. Robinson bounced to the left, where he was gang tackled right at the line to gain. Although Robinson’s body crosses the first-down marker, the ball was in his left arm as he ran left toward the sideline.
This evidently confused either the officiating crew or the chain gang. Robinson himself crossed the line to gain, but the ball did not. It is unclear whether the officials signaled for the chains to be reset or whether the chain gang did it themselves, but it looked sloppy.
Quickly, after figuring out that Robinson did not secure a first down, the chains were reset to show 3rd and 1. Jets coach Robert Saleh was rightly incensed, and used the opportunity to challenge the play. Spot-of-the-ball plays are notoriously hard to overturn on review, as clear and obvious errors have been routinely fixed by the sky judge.
It’s disconcerting that, in eight Bills games, we have seen this exact situation three times. I don’t watch every NFL game, but presumably you’ll see it there too. Though the crews have correctly reset the sticks on each occasion, it’s baffling how frequently it has happened in the NFL.
2. Catch vs. Interception. Q3, 13:39.
This was another interesting play that, upon further review, it’s impossible to know whether the crew got correct. On this 2nd and 8 play, Zach Wilson looked for his tight end C.J. Uzomah. Uzomah was in close coverage with Taron Johnson, and the ball was batted up into the air when Tremaine Edmunds came into the play. At first, it looked like Edmunds secured the ball but, in doing so, Uzomah was able to get a grasp on it too.
Like a held ball in basketball, it looked as if both players fell to the turf with simultaneous possession. Just as a legitimate tie goes to the baserunner in baseball, simultaneous possession goes to the offensive player, in this case Uzomah.
CBS rules analyst Gene Steretore agreed with the ruling during the broadcast. He thought it was too close to overturn. In an example of the sky judge getting involved, Sean McDermott said during his Monday press conference that the sideline official told him the sky judge determined it was also simultaneous possession, and that he “couldn’t” challenge the play. If this was the information from the official, this information is incorrect. McDermott could have challenged the play, but based off the information from the sideline official, it wouldn’t have been overturned.
In my mind, whether the call was right or wrong, there’s nothing there to overturn the play. Even if Edmunds has “more” of the ball than Uzomah, the tight end still possesses the ball. Varying degrees of possession is not relevant here; it’s simultaneous possession during the catch and is, therefore, a catch.
3: No call for Offensive Holding. Q3, 10:38.
This play happened a few plays later on the same Jets drive. Von Miller is lined up on the right side of the formation and takes a long-developing route to the quarterback. The pocket collapses, but as it does, Zach Wilson breaks contain and scrambles for a first down.
Is Von Miller held on the play? The answer is almost certainly no. His body language doesn’t change as he pursues the quarterback, and it doesn’t really seem to be burdened by the right tackle’s arm. But these two short paragraphs aren’t really for this play… They are for this one:
4. Holding, Buffalo. Q4, 1:43.
This does not appear to be holding either, particularly in a game where there has not been an offensive holding foul in more than 58 minutes of play.
This is the play in question and there was, unfortunately, no broadcast replay because CBS was focused on Stefon Diggs’s ridiculous disallowed catch. Based on this view alone, I cannot understand what Dion Dawkins did to commit a holding penalty. It is a textbook pancake block.
If you watch the video again, the only thing I can come up with is a mis-announced penalty. Maybe David Quessenberry holds defensive lineman Bryce Huff and the crew reported the wrong number. But I still can’t see it. In a game with no offensive holding penalties before the second half’s two minute warning, this call negated a 26-yard catch. The Buffalo Bills did not do enough to win the game, but this call alone sure didn’t help them.
5. No call for Defensive Pass Interference. Q4, 00:33.
I may be in the minority here, but I don’t hate the no-call. Cornerback Sauce Gardner and Gabe Davis jostled all the way down the sideline. Davis extended his right arm into the defensive back just as much as Gardner tugged on the wide receiver. It looks ugly because Gardner does not turn to face the ball, but he showed fantastic body control in not barreling into Davis as the receiver slowed up.
By the time the ball arrives, Gardner is not holding Davis or inhibiting him from catching the ball. Davis was still extending his right arm and hadn’t recovered when the ball arrived. It hit him right between the 1 and the 3 on his jersey, and it’s a ball that I think needs to be caught by a WR2.
Sure, by the book, this is defensive pass interference. But so are countless plays in NFL football games. Would you be furious if this was called on the Bills? Of course. I don’t like it as a Buffalo Bills fan, but I can’t really hate the ruling. Buffalo’s highly-powered offense should’ve never needed a Hail Mary to beat the Jets.
Sometimes the sloppiest games can simultaneously be the cleanest. The Bills and Jets did not play sharp football and yet there were only six penalties in the game. But penalties don’t tell the whole story and there were a few additional plays that affected the outcome of the game. Ultimately, the Bills didn’t deserve to win it, but some of the rulings didn’t help.
Next week, the Buffalo Bills head home to play the Minnesota Vikings. I also head home, in a sense, to my second home in Orchard Park. I hope watching a live NFL game gives me a different perspective on the rulings, so we’ll see what happens.
Now, I just need Josh to play. Go Bills.
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