Just before halftime of their Week 16 game against the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin caught a touchdown pass. The game official standing there called it as such. A few minutes later, referee Craig Wrolstad overturned the call.
“When the receiver got confirmed control of the football, he was not able to get both feet down in bounds,” Wrolstad said after the game. “So, his back foot was already off the ground and it stepped out of bounds. His firm control did not occur until after he had one foot off the ground.”
Head coach Sean McDermott was just as flummoxed after the game as he appeared to be going into halftime when talking with Wrolstad.
"Yeah, I'm at a loss," McDermott said after the game. "A loss as to, I saw it as a touchdown. And other than that, all I can say right now is, I am at a loss for how a play like that can get overturned."
Benjamin, for his part, said what he was supposed to say from the locker room.
“The referee made the call and you have to live with that,” said the receiver after the game. “We just had to move on and come out in the second half and try to put some more points on the board. You can only control what you can control, and you have to keep playing and move on from there.”
Bills owner Terry Pegula took to the radio airwaves on Tuesday to dispute the call from the referee. Interestingly, it was the first game of Pegula’s tenure as team owner in which he wasn’t in attendance so he saw it unfold just as the fans did and with multiple replays on his television.
"They obviously weren't looking at the same television the rest of the country was looking at, were they?" Pegula said on WGR 550 in Buffalo, the radio home of the Bills and Sabres. "You know what, you can probably find somebody in this country that disagrees, and I know one guy would be [NFL Senior VP of Officiating] Al Riveron sitting in New York City. But everybody I talked to - and they're not Bills fans and they're not necessarily anti-Patriots - they're all baffled by that call, which just wasn't consistent with what replay is.”
Riveron said at the time on Twitter that Benjamin’s foot was off the ground when he gained possession. Pegula doesn’t think there was enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.
"Replay was developed by this league to correct obviously mistakes,” continued Pegula. “And if you got to look at a play 30 times from five different angles, and keep looking at it, and looking at it and looking at it, you go with the call on the field. That's what the league has been doing ever since replay started. As a matter of fact, Dean Blandino, who was the head of replay last year, said that was a touchdown."
Blandino and his predecessor, Mike Periera, both are on record saying it should have been a touchdown based on the call that took place on the field. Pegula and his coach could both face penalties from the league for speaking out against the officials.
"I can tell you this, since we've had this discussion, I'm sure I'll be having another conversation with somebody,” said Pegula of possible consequences. “If it's unfriendly from the other side, I can dish back on unfriendly too, because it's a little upsetting."