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Buffalo Bills Rulings Review: Week 4

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After each game, Blake Parnham breaks down the performance of the third team on the field: the men and women in stripes. In “Buffalo Bills Rulings Review”, Buffalo Fanatics‘ resident referee addresses the most consequential decisions from each Buffalo Bills game – whether they were right or wrong, no matter which team they benefitted. With refereeing, sometimes the shorter the article, the better!

The Bills steamrolled Houston on both sides of the Ball on Sunday. They were also the cleaner and more disciplined team on the field. While the 40-0 final score was significantly lopsided – the second-largest regular season margin of victory ever for Buffalo – the Bills also won in terms of penalty yards. Houston committed 10 penalties for 100 yards, while Buffalo only had three for 30.

Interestingly, no penalties were declined on Sunday. There were also no offsetting flags. Buffalo had one offensive penalty for 10 yards, no defensive penalties, and two blocks-in-the-back on special teams. Houston’s totals tell a different story. The Texans committed six offensive penalties for 68 yards, three defensive penalties for 22, and one 10-yard special teams infraction.

Compared to other week four matchups – notably the Sunday night and Monday night games – the officials in the Bills-Texans game did a terrific job. Ron Torbert is an excellent referee. He’s also a graduate of Harvard Law School, which probably helped him with this mouthful in last December’s Bengals-Dolphins game.

There weren’t many noteworthy rulings from Sunday’s game. Nevertheless, here are five calls that I consider to be the most important in the Buffalo Bills’ shutout win:

1: Offensive Holding, Houston. Q1, 15:00.

This was the first offensive snap of the game. It was a pass play. Star Lotulelei was massacred by guard Tytus Howard as he attempted to pressure quarterback Davis Mills. Lotulelei was held, and Mills escaped for a short gain. The officials correctly flagged Howard, and let everyone in the stadium know what the standard for holding would be for the rest of the day. It was called often. Overall, six of the 13 penalties in the game were for offensive holding.

2: Unnecessary Roughness, Houston. Q2, 00:49.

Up 13-0, the Bills had a chance to increase their lead with less than a minute to go. Driving toward the endzone, Emmanuel Sanders settled into a spot between two zone defenders, made the catch, and was immediately hit. Cornerback Tavierre Thomas, a second defender, attempted to help bring Sanders to ground, but lead with his head. It’s extremely hard to tell, but it looked like Thomas caught the wide receiver on his shoulder pad. It’s the kind of play that might be by rule unnecessary roughness, but one that you really hate to see when it goes against your team.

3: No call for taunting, Buffalo. Q3, 12:50.

Sometimes, the best decision a referee can make is to keep the flag in his or her pocket. Driving to start the third quarter, Josh Allen hit Sanders again, and he was brought down by cornerback Desmond King II. Sanders immediately stood up, and chested up with King, getting in his face, right in front of down judge Kevin Codey. Without hesitating, Codey jumped between the two players and separated them. In a season with a lot of taunting penalties, including this egregious one on Monday Night Football, Codey did a great job of preventing an altercation between Sanders and King, and ultimately keeping the flag in his pocket.

4: Unnecessary Roughness, Houston: Q3, 10:36.

This was a strange play. At first, it looked like Allen was intercepted by safety Lonnie Johnson. As with any really, really close play, the officials are trained to let the possible interception progress as if it were picked off, so that if the play ends up being reviewed, the defense would get the yardage they earned. The referees did just that, and once Johnson was pushed out of bounds, they ruled it incomplete. Houston eventually didn’t elect to challenge, and it was second down.

Or at least it should have been. Johnson was evidently frustrated with something, and absolutely decked Dawson Knox after the whistle. While Knox embellished just a little bit, it was absolutely worth a flag for unnecessary roughness, and it was thrown. This was a relaly fine play overall from the officiating crew.

5: Fumble or Incomplete, Houston: Q4, 13:06.

I really wish we had the in-game announcers for this play, as the lack of replay makes analysis difficult. Davis Mills threw a pass over the middle to tight end Jordan Akins, who appeared to make the catch and extend the ball, hoping for more yardage. He was spun around by Tremaine Edmunds and Cam Lewis, who punched the ball out of Akins’s hands. It hit the ground, and was scooped up by A.J. Klein.

An official signaled an incomplete pass, and myself and everyone around me were screaming for McDermott to challenge. Then, suddenly, Ron Torbert announced that it was a fumble and Buffalo ball. It’s unclear how the officials came to that conclusion without replay, but it was the correct ruling. Akins caught the ball, turned upfield, and made a football move by extending it for more yardage. Catch, fumble, and clear recovery by the defense.

Overall, it was a great week for both the Buffalo Bills and Ron Torbert’s crew. In a week with numerous officiating mistakes and one prominent player even calling out the refs in a postgame press conference, we were lucky to have Ron Torbert and his crew. Hopefully Bills Mafia gets more performances like this, both out of their team and the officials assigned to work their games.


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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