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Buffalo Bills Rulings Review: Week 10

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Following a humiliating trip to Jacksonville, the Buffalo Bills looked to rebound in their game in New Jersey, against the New York Jets. Like the Jaguars game, the Bills entered as heavy favorites, and this time, showed why they deserved that respect. They dominated the Jets 45-17.

In blowouts like Sunday’s game, it’s often easy to forget about the third team on the field: the men and women in stripes. Rarely can a call – good or bad – impact the outcome of a game when one team plays so much better than the other. Fortunately for the Bills, they were the team doing the dominating. Also, fortunately for both teams, the referees didn’t insert themselves with many questionable decisions.

For the second straight week, the Bills had 21 penalties called in their game. But unlike in Jacksonville, there were significantly fewer penalty yards. Against the Jaguars, the Bills had 118 penalty yards themselves. Against the Jets, there were 119 penalty yards in the entire game. Part of this was due to the fact that twice there were offsetting penalties and one foul was declined, so there were only 16 accepted penalties in the game.

In total, the Buffalo Bills had seven accepted penalties for 50 yards against. Three came on offense for 20 yards, and four came on defense for 30. The Jets had nine accepted fouls for 69 yards against: six for 49 on offense, two for 20 on special teams, and one defensive penalty for a whopping zero yards, as it was half-the-distance-to-the-goal from the one-yard line.

Third-year referee Scott Novak was in charge of the Jets-Bills game. This was his first Buffalo Bills game since Week 11 of 2019, when he called Buffalo’s 37-20 win in Miami.

Novak became a topic of conversation in the days before the game, when Sean McDermott acknowledged that he was “well aware” Novak’s crew had called the most penalties in the NFL. Through nine games, Novak’s crew had called 20 or more penalties three times. 1/3 of his games had 20+ flags. That’s nuts. And yet, with 21 on Sunday, his lead in the “Most Flags Thrown” competition actually grew.

Despite this, there really weren’t a whole lot of rulings I have a gripe with. I thought Novak and his crew had a solid game. Here are the five plays I’d like to talk about:

No call for Unnecessary Roughness. Q1, 3:38.

Already up 10-0, Buffalo forced a 4th and 15, and New York had to punt. After two bounces, Isaiah McKenzie picked up the kick and turned upfield, and had a terrific return of 26 yards. Then came the flag that Buffalo Bills fans have grown to expect after big special team plays.

As the players returned to their sidelines, Novak motioned to his Umpire, Ramon George, and his Down Judge, Derrick Bowers, to talk it over. After a quick discussion, Novak announced that there was no foul for unnecessary roughness.

The incident in question occurred just after Isaiah McKenzie was tackled at the Jets 43. Just after he was brought down, A.J. Epenesa pushed cornerback Justin Hardee to the ground. It was a little late and looked quite violent, so one of the officials threw his flag. After getting together, however, they decided to pick it up. I thought this was the right decision.

There really wasn’t that much contact, and it looked like Hardee embellished a bit to sell the call. Sometimes, it’s frustrating when officials pick up a flag. It’s even more frustrating when it happens multiple times a game. But sometimes, like this play, it’s both understandable why an official threw his or her flag in the first place, and then why the crew decided to pick it up afterwards.

Delay of Game, New York. Q2, 11:09.

This had the potential to be a disaster play for the Buffalo Bills, and a really impactful call by the officials. New York had a 4th and 1 on the Buffalo 45, and Head Coach Robert Saleh kept his offense on the field. After the huddle, the Jets were late getting to the line of scrimmage, with the center taking hold of the ball with only four seconds on the play clock. Naturally, the Jets were unable to get the play off. The officials blew their whistles to stop the players. But that was only the beginning.

Admittedly, the whistles didn’t sound that loud on the broadcast. I have no idea what they sounded like in the stadium. It seemed like most players heard them immediately, except A.J. Klein, who chased after quarterback Mike White. Klein lunged at the quarterback. But, because White stopped avoiding him, Klein seemed to realize the play was dead. Rather than slamming White to the ground, Klein punched the ball out of his hand and pushed him to the turf.

Scott Novak was standing five yards away and had a big decision about whether or not to penalize Klein for unnecessary roughness. A lot of things had to have been going through his mind. How loud were the whistles? How late was the contact? And how significant was the push? Ultimately, Novak did not throw a flag. He reached down to help White off the turf and then got in the middle of a small scrum. Then, he announced the delay of game penalty. The Jets were forced to punt.

I thought this was a really good decision. If Novak had called a dead ball unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, it would not have offset he delay of game. it would have resulted in a first down for the Jets, and the game could have turned out very differently.

Defensive Holding, Buffalo. Q2, 4:53.

On a 2nd and 6, the Jets were on their own 27 and looking to score their first points of the game. Mike White threw a dump off pass to wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who picked up a gain of three. The officials threw a flag on the other side of the field and called a penalty on Jordan Poyer, giving the Jets a first down.

I, nor the announcers, liked this one. As wide receiver Braxton Berrios ran his route, Poyer had his hands on Berrios’s jersey, but it didn’t look like he was grabbing it. There was no tug of the shirt, and no restriction of Berrios’s movement. I thought they could’ve passed on this one.

Forward Pass vs. Fumble. Q2, 2:00.

On the first play after the two-minute warning, New York faced a 3rd and 7 from the Buffalo 38. Somehow, no one decided to block Ed Oliver, and he had a free rush at Mike White. Oliver made the most of his opportunity, absolutely leveling the quarterback. Fortunately for White, he saw the hit coming and attempted to heave the ball as far as he could. The officials did not blow it down when it hit the turf. Mario Addison picked up the ball and ran for several yards before being pushed out of bounds.

Live, I thought it was an incomplete pass, but I also understood why Novak didn’t blow the play dead. Because they are automatically reviewed, officials are trained to let potential turnovers play out. If the play doesn’t end up being a turnover, then there’s no issue. If it does, then the defense gets the return yards it otherwise wouldn’t have if the crew had blown the play dead immediately.

For these reasons, I expected Novak to announce an incomplete pass with a booth review. Instead, he called the play a fumble, and it was reviewed as a turnover play.

The review was close. CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore correctly informed viewers that all replay officials needed was “that arm to move forward by one camera frame” with the ball in Mike White’s hand for it to be incomplete. The following photos are one camera frame apart.

It certainly looks like the ball was in Mike White’s hand while his arm was moving forward. The ruling was overturned to an incomplete pass. This was a good use of replay in overturning an incorrect call on a close play. Remember that because the exact same thing happened later in the game and without a review.

Incompletion vs. Interception. Q3, 00:43

I really don’t know how this wasn’t reviewed. On his own 26, Josh Allen made one of the only mistakes of the entire game. He led Stefon Diggs just a little too much. As a result, the ball was deflected by cornerback Isaiah Dunn. It bounced toward safety Sharron Neasman, who had to dive to get to the ball. The New York sideline went crazy, celebrating the first interception by a Jets defensive back all season.

But was it an interception? After the play was over, there was a more-than two minute long delay, presumably while the replay official was deciding whether to confirm the ruling or initiate a formal review. The whole time, the crowd was chanting “We want Flacco.”

It really looked like Neasman didn’t catch it cleanly. If a player in the process of making a catch loses control because the ball hits the ground, he didn’t catch it. It seems that’s what happened on this play, and it’s shocking that the replay official confirmed the interception without initiating a review.

A cynical writer might wonder whether this decision was impacted by the score and the spread. The Buffalo Bills were up by 35 at this point, the final minute of the third quarter. The Bills were not going to lose. The call was not going to impact who won and who lost. However, Buffalo were fourteen point favorites. If the Jets scored a few touchdowns, maybe they could cover… and they did score after this interception, which made it closer.

I won’t argue that the game officials on the field have motives beyond trying to get the call right. If you’re looking for that kind of speculation, you’re reading the wrong blog. NFL officials are rated on their consistency and accuracy, not gambling outcomes. The men and women in stripes sometimes make mistakes (seemingly more frequently this season), but they singularly care about getting things right on the field.

But, as I said, a cynical writer might point out that there are billions of other things in the backs of the minds of all the NFL employees in New York.

Conclusion

I, like Sean McDermott, was worried about the crew in this game. Scott Novak and his team call a lot of penalties, and they did again on Sunday. Despite this, there really wasn’t much to complain about. I thought they did a good job and deserve some praise, particularly after the past few Bills games.

Next week, the Buffalo Bills take on Indianapolis in a massive inter-conference game in Orchard Park. Let’s hope for a similar performance out of the team and officials. Go Bills.

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.

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