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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

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Both the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots avoided costly penalties in the Week 16 match-up

The Buffalo Bills lost to the New England Patriots in a game where rookie Josh Allen statistically outperformed future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. Miscues and gaffes by the entire team led to numerous lost opportunities—except with penalties. In a somewhat uncharacteristic performance by the 2018 Bills, penalties weren’t a significant issue.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty count

Last week against the Detroit Lions, 50% of the thrown flags were declined or offset, which is an unusually high mark. This week against New England, there were no declined or offset penalties on either team, which is an unusually low mark. The three flags on the Bills and five on the Patriots are both below league averages for assessed, and well below the league average for flags thrown. While the Bills edge out the Pats, both teams are off to a good start in the penalty stats department.

Penalty yards

Low assessed counts should correlate with low assessed yards and it bears out well. Both teams landed near ten yards per penalty, which is actually slightly higher than the league average of 8.5 yards. With such low sample sizes though, this has little utility in analysis.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

This is one of the least interesting charts that’s ever graced the penalty recap. You probably should ignore it entirely. While boring is good for the purposes of the team’s performance, it’s not so great for writing about. As a result, we’ll just go over each penalty individually.

John Miller’s offensive holding penalty was yardage only. At 10 yards, that equates to 1.0 Harm. There was no yardage negated from a positive play or downs given back.

Micah Hyde’s defensive pass interference call was for nine yards. It came on second down, giving the Patriots an extra down due to the automatic first. The math shakes out to 9 yards + 1 down = 1.9 Harm.

The official play by play corrects the illegal-block-in-the-back penalty by attributing it to Lafayette Pitts. On the field it was called on number 31, Dean Marlowe. He wasn’t active for the game, and that would make the penalty especially illegal. It was however actually on Pitts. Making it more confusing, the kicking team doesn’t generally attempt to block the receiving team, making this a very odd call. Note, however, that technically both teams are allowed to block. Let’s take a look at Pitts on the play to see if this was a mirage or a legitimate penalty.

Huh. Guilty as charged I guess. Weird. Ending on a good note, the Bills ended the game with 3.9 Harm. As noted last week, the Bills have been quite volatile and this marks their third lowest total this year despite an overall rough season with flags. One silver lining is that this is the third game in a row under ten, which is the magic number to stay below.

New England Patriots

The Patriots also did pretty well overall. False starts are yardage only, and Marcus Cannon’s was just that. Rob Gronkowski’s holding call wiped out a five-yard run by Rex Burkhead. Jonathan Jones’s defensive pass interference flag was 17 yards only for a nice and easy harm calculation of 1.7 Harm.

That leaves us with Julian Edelman. He had the worst-rated penalty by either team with 2.6 Harm. With the Patriots backed up on their own 17, the holding call was half-the-distance-to-the-goal or eight yards. It also negated an eight yard play as well as a first down (from second). That totals out as 8 yards + 8 yards + 1 down for the 2.6 rating. While his other penalty only rated a 0.9 Harm, it was the more egregious of the two. Let’s take a look.

This isn’t as bad as the time he pulled the same stunt on Lafayette Pitts and nearly took his head off with a helmet-to-helmet hit a few weeks ago. But this is a disturbing trend for Edelman. Just to be clear, the fair catch signal is the receiver declaring he’s no longer in the mood for a hit. Edelman has now twice waved off contact then aggressively blocked a member of the Buffalo Bills. This move roughly equates to a boxer throwing a punch while the referee has the match stopped.

The Patriots cumulative rating came out to be 7.2 Harm. That’s actually higher than the first meeting this year, but still good overall.