The Panthers-Bills game this past Sunday was the first regular season I’d attended in 11 seasons. As a Buffalo Bills fan, I was thrilled with the result. As a referee, I was pleased to see Clete Blakeman and his crew do really solid job.
After two straight losses, the Bills needed to start up a winning streak if they wanted to make the playoffs. Buffalo got off to a 14-0 start and never looked back, beating Carolina 31-14.
Buffalo committed eight penalties for 57 yards. Five were on offense for 41, and three were on defense for 26. Carolina had five fouls for 55 yards, all committed by the defense. Interestingly, this was the second consecutive game where Buffalo’s opponent did not commit an offensive penalty. Additionally, there was one declined penalty in the game, a hold by Mitch Morse. There were also two penalties that offset, for a total of sixteen flags.
Clete Blakeman and his crew were consistent and efficient for most of the day. It was expected of Blakeman, who has become one of the more respected referees in the NFL. The eleven-year veteran has officiated one Super Bowl, and should be considered for another. His most recent Bills game was Buffalo-Tennessee earlier this season.
Therefore, predictably, there is not a lot to talk about below, and not only because I was in the 300-level and it was hard to discern what was and what was not a foul. (I assure you, I rewatched the game when I got home!) Nevertheless, as always, there were a few weird plays to look at. These are the five plays from this week:
1: No Call for Pass Interference. Q2, 6:42.
Aside from the new taunting interpretation, the call I hate the most in football is defensive pass interference on underthrown passes. Often, a pass is so bad that the reciever has to retreat to the ball and bumps a defensive back running at full speed in coverage. This is what happened here.
Wide receiver D.J. Moore absolutely cooked the Bills secondary on this play. He was wide-open running down the right side. If quarterback Cam Newton had led him, he would have scored. Instead, Newton underthrew the ball. It was not windy, the ball wasn’t caught in a gust. It was just a really bad pass.
Moore had to adjust and try and come down with the ball. He turned to face Newton, and attempted to high-point it. Jackson, who was sprinting to try and catch up with Moore, couldn’t stop in time, and ran into the wide receiver just before the ball arrived.
By definition, this is pass interference. Jackson got to Moore before the ball did. These types of call are tricky, though. Jackson was so close to timing it perfectly, and this was a really bad pass. Should the officials bail out the Panthers and throw a flag that would have amounted to a fifty-one yard foul? The rules say yes.
2: Defensive Too Many Men on the Field, Carolina. Q2, 00:41.
This was really challenging to understand from my seat in the upper deck. To us, it looked like a routine incomplete pass, but Josh Allen was pleading with the officials after the play. We thought he wanted an offside call, but we didn’t see a defensive player jump. Then, someone in our section suggested that perhaps the receiver had been held. Then, because the play happened with less than two minutes remaining in a half, the replay assistant chose to review the play.
The only thing that he or she could possibly have been looking for was 12-men on the field. Sure enough, Allen noticed defensive tackle DaQuan Jones sprinting to the sideline, struggling to make it there before the snap. Allen took the snap early, while Jones was still on the field, and the replay official correctly called a penalty.
It would have been nice to see the officials on the field get this one, but they have a ton of pre-snap responsibilities. It’s an understandable miss, but fortunately, 12-men on the field is reviewable, and replay was effectively utilized to get the call right.
3: False Start, Buffalo. Q2, 00:31.
After the 12-men on the field gave the Buffalo Bills a 1st and 5, Allen hit Cole Beasley for 7 yards and another first down. The Bills called a timeout with 31 seconds left. On that play, Spencer Brown, who had already committed two penalties, saw DaQuan Jones lunge forward out of his three-point stance. Jones was close to the line of scrimmage, and Brown thought Jones had broken the plane. The left tackle jumped out of his stance, and pointed to the defensive tackle.
Line Judge Julian Mapp signaled false start, and the boos throughout the stadium were noticeable. Looking at the replay, Jones absolutely jumped forward, but he never broke the plane of the line of scrimmage. There’s no requirement for defensive players to stay in their stance until the snap; they just can’t enter the neutral zone. Jones didn’t, and false start was the correct ruling here.
4: Unnecessary Roughness, Carolina. Q3, 7:56.
On this 3rd and 9, Josh Allen was flushed left from the pocket, scrambling to the sideline. He was pushed out of bounds at the line of scrimmage and, technically, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos was credited with a sack. It was 4th and 9 for Buffalo.
Allen stood in a crowd of Panthers players, as it was the visitor’s sideline. A group of Buffalo Bills players, including Spencer Brown and Dawson Knox, rushed over to their quarterback, ensuring that he wouldn’t be pushed or bumped by any of their opponents.
Allen forced himself through the crowd, running back onto the field and then towards his own sideline. As he did so, he pushed defensive tackle Bravvion Roy, who was not on the field for this play, out of the way. Roy turned, and seeing a Bills player, shoved the man in the red jersey. That player was Dawson Knox, not Allen.
Knox was legitimately thrown off balance, and bumped into the back of Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule, who was looking in the opposite direction. Line Judge Julian Mapp saw this altercation and tossed his flag into the air. He watched the entire sequence and decided to pin a fifteen-yard personal foul on Roy. Instead of a 4th and 9, the Bills drive continued. Five plays later, they scored a touchdown.
Rhule was mad, but he didn’t see the entire exchange. After Blakeman reported the foul, Rhule shouted loud enough to be picked up by the broadcast microphone. “Clete,” he yelled, as he pointed to Knox, “That fucking guy hit… that fucking guy shoved me!”
He did shove you, Coach, but only because your guy legitimately pushed Knox first.
This is a really bad penalty to take, but also a really tough penalty to call. Knowing his team was about to get the ball back, Roy needed to stay out of this confrontation. If he didn’t shove Knox, Matt Haack would’ve come onto the field and punted the ball. But at the same time, this is a physical game, played by grown men. The contact happened as the conforntation was ending. By the time the Line Judge threw the flag, every Bills player had left the Panthers sideline. The game wasn’t chippy, either. Perhaps it would have been better to keep the flag in your pocket and move along.
5: Defensive Pass Interference, Buffalo. Q3, 5:09.
On 2nd and 11, Cam Newton dropped back to pass. He was pressured, and tried to get the ball to tight end Ian Thomas, who ran a short curl route. Thomas had run his route directly at Levi Wallace, using his size advantage against the smaller corner. When he reached the top of his route, like a basketball player boxing out, he turned around to face his quarterback. But, due to the pressure, Newton had already thrown the ball. It hit Thomas low, and far sooner than he expected it to.
Admittedly, there was a lot of contact between the players. Thomas used his size and body, and Wallace used his hands. Since all of this happened within five yards of the line of scrimmage, neither holding nor illegal contact could have been called. The officials could only judge the contact while the ball was in the air, and whether that contact constituted pass interference.
Somehow, the officials thought it did warrant a flag. Thomas was neither ready for the pass, nor facing his quarterback, but the officials determined that Wallace interfered with his ability to catch it. Perhaps they thought Wallace prevented him from completing his route and turning to face the passer. Either way, I thought defensive pass interference was hard to justify here.
The Buffalo Bills rolled, and the officials largely stayed out of the game. They called what happened, and very little they did impacted the outcome. Expect Clete Blakeman to get a prominent playoff game, just as he did last year, when he officiated the NFC Championship.
As for the Bills, they are off to New England for one of the most important games in recent memory. On the day after Christmas, if they win, they control their own fate in the division. If they lose, they will need help to even make the playoffs.
Shawn Smith will be the referee of the game in Foxboro. His most recent Bills assignment was Miami at Buffalo on Halloween. You can read about the game here. I thought he did a fine job back in Week 8. Let’s hope he has an even better one in Week 16. Go Bills.