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Penalty recap: Flags not an issue as Buffalo Bills take down San Francisco 49ers

The lack of flags was kinda surprising

The Buffalo Bills took down the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football and looked really good doing it. Not just as a result of their one-punt game and lots of points either. With only four penalties called, the Bills tied their lowest flag output of the season. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some intrigue though. Let’s dive in.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

This isn’t what we’re used to seeing. Not only are the bars for the opponent higher than the Bills, Buffalo is under the league average. Only one flag was declined and it was on the 49ers.

Penalty Yards

Despite the disparity in penalty counts, the two teams fared similarly. The relative amounts are reversed as well, with Buffalo outpacing San Francisco. The right-hand columns are reversed as well with the Bills being the team that negated yardage due to penalty. San Francisco escaped unscathed in this measure.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

With only four we can take a bit more time with each one. Usually we’d ignore a false start but in this case we’ll cover that too. Heck, here’s a GIF. It’s not every game you get the wacky flag on...just about everyone.

That false start came on the play directly after the offensive holding by Devin Singletary. The two penalties took the Bills from 3rd-and-goal at the two, to the 17. It’s possible this took away a touchdown, but it’s also possible it added a field goal. Had Singletary’s flag not been called it would have resulted in 4th-and-goal at the one. A complete pass to Cole Beasley was just short of the TD. That also explains the Harm Rating. In addition to the ten assessed yards, Singletary’s flag wiped out one Beasley little yard.

Speaking of Cole Beasley and holding calls, his flag was also blatant and wiped out four yards from, you guessed it, Devin Singletary. This was a spot-of-the-foul call and Singletary got to keep two yards at least.

Levi Wallace’s defensive pass interference call was assessed at 25 yards and gave up two downs for 4.5 Harm. It was also the most controversial flag of the game (for Bills fans). Let’s take a look.

Ah ****. That’s honestly a pretty good call. More than likely Aiyuk has no chance of catching this even with both hands free. Wallace had perfect position but there’s no denying he pinned that arm down.

The Buffalo Bills had 7.5 Harm for the day, which is a solid outing. Despite matching the game against the Kansas City Chiefs for their lowest penalty count of the year, it’s only the fourth lowest in harm. Games against the Los Angeles Rams (6.4), Kansas City (4.9) and the New England Patriots (4.1) were all lower.

San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco had a few more and several “meh” ones so let’s rip through those quickly. With one exception, false starts are cut and dry. Javon Kinlaw’s offside was yardage only on an incomplete pass. Jordan Willis’s was the declined as the catch by Cole Beasley gained six and the first down the penalty would also have given. Arik Armstead’s holding call was a completed catch to Lee Smith. With similar yardage at stake, the Bills accepted the penalty to keep the down.

The false start on Nick Mullens is significant for two reasons. There’s only been four on quarterbacks this year, including this one. Fun fact, two of the three others are on Tom Brady. The other reason is that I didn’t make a typo. It was officially assessed as a four-yard flag. I used to say these rounding errors were rare but it feels like I’ve already discussed this a few times this season. Let’s look at a GIF then I’ll cover it again.

As you can see, the refs actually spotted it at five yards. For the purposes of the ledger though the initial spot is considered the one-yard line as they don’t like to use “the five-inch line.” Similarly the ball moves to the “five”-yard line even though it’s actually at the “five-and-five-inch” line. Rest assured the in-game consequence was correct—it’s just incorrect in the accounting.

Similarly, on the play Richard Sherman was called for illegal contact, the ball began at the 42.5 yard line which is rounded to the 43 on the play-by-play. The ball was advanced to just beyond the 47 for roughly the five yards it should have been, but was rounded down for yet another rounding error. Let’s take a look to get a giggle out of the highest rated flag of the day.

It’s not the worst penalty of all time by any means but there’s definitely contact. This penalty bailed Josh Allen out of his worst throw of the game. A low ball that was tipped and intercepted. As such that adds four harm right off the bat as it “negates” the four downs of opportunity he lost his team. It also gave the Bills one since the play occurred on second down. Add up the five downs and the four yards and we have a 5.4 Harm.

Finally, the roughing call on Kentavius Street turned what would have been a 3rd-and-18 on an incomplete pass into a first down. Street arguably doesn’t deserve the flag, but Josh Allen deserves an Oscar.

The 49ers ended the game with 10.3 Harm, which is a tiny shade on the wrong side of things. Penalties were a bit of a factor but certainly not a deciding one.