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Buffalo Bills Rulings Review: Week 11

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Coming off a dominant performance against the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills took on the Indianapolis Colts in an important inter-conference home game. Following the Jets game, I hoped for a similar job from both the team and the officials, as the Bills won and Scott Novak’s crew called a solid game in New Jersey.

On Sunday, the Bills were horrible. And the officials were… alright?

Buffalo was destroyed at home on Sunday, losing 41-15 to Indianapolis. The Bills were inferior in all three phases of the game. They were also completely outcoached. In a surprising reversal of recent weeks, the officials didn’t have that much of an impact on a Buffalo loss, though there were a few rulings that still linger.

There were 10 accepted penalties total in the Colts-Bills game. Seven were against Buffalo (for 56 yards) and three against Indianapolis (for 30 yards). Of the Bills penalties, three were on offense for 20 yards, and four were on defense for 36. The Colts had two penalties on offense for 15 yards, and one on defense for the same amount of yardage. There were also four declined penalties in the game.

These numbers should not be shocking to any regular reader of these pieces. The Buffalo Bills are one of the most undisciplined squads in the NFL. They’ve committed the third-most fouls in the league, and the two teams ahead of them have played one extra game than Buffalo.

The referee for Sunday’s game was Brad Rogers. Rogers is in his third year as a crew chief and had previously taken charge of three Bills games in his career. Interestingly, he officiated two of the three most recent Bills-Titans games, and both were Week 5 matchups in consecutive years (2019 and 2020). He also called 2019’s Week 17 Bills-Jets game in Buffalo.

Overall, I thought the crew was fine. There were some mistakes, but mistakes will always happen in officiating. The Bills were thoroughly embarrassed from start to finish, but there were some important calls that went against them. It’s hard to argue that they changed the result, but they’re worth looking at here.

Here are the five calls in this week’s “Rulings Review”:

1: False Start, Buffalo: Q1, 4:38

After Indianapolis drove down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive, the Bills needed an answer. Buffalo had a promising drive of their own until a 3rd and 3 at the Colts 28 completely derailed it. As the play clock ticked down to 1 second, Allen took the shotgun snap and ran to the right on a quarterback sweep. As he neared the edge for what would have been a first down, whistles were blown and the play ended.

Live, I thought Daryl Williams moved early. He was the offensive lineman on the camera side of the field, and it looked like he jumped. On the replay from the goal line, it’s clear that both Williams and Cody Ford were early. It’s the type of mistake we’ve sadly come to expect from this team; a costly penalty at a big moment that stalls your drive.

The right side of the offensive line is moving early

On the very next play, Mitch Morse committed a holding penalty and 3rd and 3 became 3rd and 18. That’s the play below.

2: No call for Offside and No Call for Defensive Pass Interference. Q1, 4:10

The rare double! There were two possible penalties on this play. Ultimately, neither were called. In a very similar situation to the Week 8 game against the Dolphins, I think Josh Allen thought he had a free play. On a 4th down in the Dolphins game, it looked like Jaelan Phillips was in the neutral zone at the time of the snap, but the refs didn’t call it and the Bills turned the ball over on downs. I wrote about it in that week’s Rulings Review.

On this 3rd and 18 from Sunday, Allen tried a hard count and got defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to lunge forward. Because of the down and distance, Buckner was not in a 3-point stance at the line of scrimmage, but standing two yards behind it. Even though he lunged forward, he was not in the neutral zone. I suspect Allen thought he was, and that may have been why the quarterback forced a tough throw.

That throw was intercepted by safety George Odom. While Odom was in no way close to interfering with Gabriel Davis, it sure looked like cornerback Rock Ya-Sin was. Ya-Sin held both of Davis’s arms as the wide receiver broke back to the ball. This should have been called pass interference. The Bills’ drive should have continued.

Ya-Sin is holding Davis he breaks back toward the ball

It’s hard to measure how much of an impact this play had on the outcome of the game. Buffalo could have tied the game on this drive. But they also lost by 26.

3: Spot of the ball. Q2, 8:29

This was a massive 3rd and 1 in the game. It looked incredibly sloppy by the crew, but it seemed like the officials got it right.

Needing short yardage, the Colts, predictably, handed the ball to running back Jonathan Taylor. And, predictably, it looked like he picked it up. Taylor needed to reach the Buffalo Bills 48 1/2 yard line, and he went down right there. Down Judge Kent Payne and Line Judge Tom Symonette converged at the spot, and, after a short discussion, Brad Rogers signaled a first down. Then, Payne signaled the chain crew to move downfield for the upcoming 1st and 10.

No referee likes to admit they made a mistake. But, to his credit, it looked like Rogers realized that he may have been premature in awarding a first down. The only problem was that the chain crew had moved the markers. Fortunately, they’d yet to move the clip on the chain.

Each time a team gains a new set of downs, the chain crew attached a small clip to the physical chain on the yardage markers. The clip is placed along the first of the five-yard stripes that intersect with the chain. In this instance, two plays before the 3rd and 1, the Colts picked up a first down at their own 42-yard line. The chain crew placed a clip on the chain exactly where it intersected with the 45-yard stripe, so that if the chains were moved prematurely, the officials could retroactively line the clip up at the 45 and it would be like the chain crew had never moved them in the first place.

This is exactly what happened here. It looked foolish and sloppy, but the officials put the clip at the 45 and stretched the chains out from there. In an era with HD cameras and slow-motion replay, they still use this technique because it works. The officials measured the spot of the ball and it was extremely close, but ultimately, just enough for the first down.

The crew should have measured initially, but I have to commend Brad Rogers for realizing that he might have made a mistake and double checking to confirm that he got it right.

4: Defensive Holding, Buffalo. Q3, 12:21

On a 3rd and 8 and down by three scores, Buffalo needed a stop on Indianapolis’s first drive of the half. The Bills brought a four man rush and Ed Oliver got to quarterback Carson Wentz. But, like so many great plays this season, a penalty erased it.

Taron Johnson held wide receiver Zach Pascal. It should have been called… and it was. The issue here relates to the no call for defensive pass interference I mentioned earlier. If they wanted to be consistent, then they should have either called both or neither.

Fortunately for Buffalo, the Colts did not end up scoring on this drive. Ironically, it was their only drive of the game that did not result in points until they turned the ball over on downs with 22 seconds left in the game.

5: Unnecessary Roughness, one on each team. Q3, 13:36 and Q3, 10:42

These two unnecessary roughness penalties occurred on two different plays. Both late hits drew flags when the runner neared the sideline. One was correct and one was not.

The first penalty actually happened three plays before the Taron Johnson hold, so forgive me for putting them out of order. On this play, Carson Wentz hit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on a crossing pattern. As he ran toward the sideline, Jordan Poyer hit him as he was going out of bounds. The photo below was taken just as the contact happened.

Hilton is still in bounds

Hilton is in bounds. This is a legal play. What’s more, the official at the bottom of the photo, who was able to watch Poyer charge toward and make contact with Hilton, did not throw his flag. The official at the top of the photo, who could not have seen Poyer right up until the impact, did throw his flag. The official that watched the whole play correctly ruled that Poyer made legal contact. It’s a shame he didn’t overrule his crewmate.

The second late hit out of bounds occurred on the first play of Buffalo’s next drive. After a great 28-yard run, Matt Breida was hit as he ran out of bounds. Unlike the previous play, Breida was definitively on the sideline when the contact happened. The penalty was justified, adding 15 yards to the end of the run.

Breida is out of bounds

Conclusion

Overall, I thought Rogers and his crew were fine. They made some mistakes, but mistakes will happen. Unlike the losses at Jacksonville and Tennessee, each by 3 points, the rulings in this game did not affect the outcome of the game. The Bills lost by 26. They deserved to lose this football game.

Nevertheless, the Buffalo Bills have a big-time discipline problem. The Bills have 661 penalty yards through 10 games, an average of 66.1 penalty yards per game. When compared to their AFC competition, it’s disappointing how carless and undisciplined this team is. For example, Tennessee averages 61 penalty yards per game, Kansas City 54.3, New England 53, and Baltimore 50.2

These are not small sample sizes. We’re more than halfway through the season. I don’t know what the solution is, but this is a troubling trend that, if not rectified, will hurt the team in the playoffs. If they get that far.

It’s a quick turnaround as the Buffalo Bills are off to New Orleans for Thanksgiving (or, for Canadians like me, just another Thursday night game). May you all have a healthy portion of turkey, close friends and family to watch with, and a few cold beverages on standby, just in case another one of these games happen on primetime. 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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