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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City is a mess

What does the “ref apologist” have to say about this one?

Over the years I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation for siding with the refs. Ordinarily, I think they do a great job. Usually I think they call things pretty straight. The Buffalo Bills faced off against Kansas City, and the refs were anything but ordinary or usual. Due to the volume of penalties this week (23 total, woof) I’ll focus more on key ones. Feel free to ask about others in the comments, where I’ll ignore your pleas for more information because even I’m sick of the penalties for this week.


Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty count

The overall counts don’t seem too terrible. Buffalo has had ten called one time this year, and flirted with ten assessed. That said, this is still pretty bad. Somewhat surprisingly, Kansas City had ten penalties called, which is a good chunk above league average. When it comes to raw count KC had a pretty rough night too.

Penalty yards

Yards and counts tend to be pretty closely related and this bears out even this week. Kansas City hovers around average. Buffalo is way above. For true count, the Bills negated 27 yards to the Chiefs’ 17. Don’t worry, we’re nowhere near done yet.

Penalty Harm

Kansas City

I know this is Kansas City’s section, but I want to begin by saying that the Buffalo Bills had zero false-start penalties. KC had three. At home. Ah ha ha haha hahah ah ahaha ha! To save time in this section I’ll just say that every single one of these flags was well deserved and legit because I’m a Bills fan.

Seriously though, these were pretty well earned. Now for this next thing, I will be a “ref apologist” for a second. Before the first two KC drives were done I saw numerous “THEY’RE HOLDING ON EVERY PLAY” cries. Stop it. Read this a few times. I watched the first two drives and saw zero missed holding calls. The refs sucked, but let’s at least be objective about it. There was one possible missed illegal block in the back but I don’t recall anyone worried about that during the game.

Here’s the closest I saw to a holding flag but be warned there’s a mini lecture coming after you watch it.

Not only is grabbing not the same as holding, there are lots of exceptions where “holding” is acceptable. There’s a little bit of a jerk or twist by the o-lineman, which is one possible component of holding. If you re-read my Holding Primer article though, you’ll recall that when a defender uses a rip move (like above), it’s not holding.

That said, anyone claiming Frank Clark’s roughing call was BS should bone up on the rules. You can’t flop with all your weight on the QB after the ball leaves their hand and Clark does. There’s zero attempt to brace or lessen the impact either. I’m not saying it was a DIRTY hit (remember this for later). But it was 100 percent a penalty. Remember that a lot of defensive penalties are strict liability. It only matters that it happened. The intent or other circumstances around it don’t matter. That’s the case with Clark. Take another look.

Clark’s flag gave the Bills two free downs in addition to the 15 yards for 3.5 Harm. But wait. There’s more! It also wiped out an interception, which is rated as 4.0 Harm (1 point for each potential down negated). That brings the Clark flag to 7.5 Harm. While that does justify the potential significance for those railing against it, it was entirely warranted.

Kansas City left the game with 13.2 Harm total, which is just a bit on the wrong side of things.

Buffalo Bills

If you’re worried about a specific number, it really is OK to ask in the comments. Let’s just say the Bills negated/gave up a lot of downs for the quick explanation. For this week’s focus though, let’s talk about how bad some of these were.

The holding call on Mitch Morse was just...incredibly bad by the refs. I’m not even gonna give a GIF on that. Moving on...

I said a word in the Rumblings slack channel and head coach Sean McDermott was seen mouthing the same word a few seconds later (while frantically waving his hand over his head in the direction of the ref). No, McDermott wasn’t suggesting that a joke went over the head of Carl Cheffers, he was making the motion for “uncatchable.” Not only did Travis Kelce pull Tre’Davious White down to make it look like there was significant contact, the ball was uncatchable. By rule that means DPI shouldn’t be called. Let’s check the replay to see if McDermott and yours truly saw it right live...

OK, that’s probably not egregious after all. While it’s six yards past where Kelce hits the turf, usually the officials would look for a ball a bit further away and/or out of bounds. There’s no way Kelce WOULD have caught it, so technically it’s uncatchable. From a call standpoint though it’s fringe. I still think Kelce is the primary culprit on the contact though, so I guess “uncatchable” is moot.

I will defend refs on Jordan Poyer’s unnecessary roughness flag. Like Clark’s flag, it’s not dirty but he did make contact to a defenseless player’s head/neck area. It would have been hard for Poyer to do much differently, but remember that strict liability concept. What led to the hit and the intent don’t matter. Only the result.

Similarly, here’s Ed Oliver’s roughing the passer.

Simply put, don’t hit QBs in the knees. Oliver creates an impact with his shoulder and that’s an issue. If it were just his arm he’d have been fine. I don’t think there’s a good case Oliver was blocked into Patrick Mahomes, which would negate the flag. I do think there’s a better case that Groot was, which is why there’s no flag on his collision. Now, there is a case to be made that the contact occurred when Mahomes was in the air and the rule states it’s a foul if the QB has one or both feet planted on the ground. The problem: There is wording that suggests it can be called past initial contact—so while I don’t love this call, I do see it.

I’ve already broken 1.000 words so let’s close this thing out. I don’t think the refs were TRYING to rig the game, but once in a while you get a bad game and this one definitely qualifies as that. I will also add that I’m focusing mostly on what was called, and there were a few no-calls I didn’t like either. Anyway, here’s where things get lopsided. Buffalo accumulated 28.0 Harm, over twice what KC did. It’s also incredibly bad. The Bills won by 18.

Last fun fact, the Bills record for Harm set last year still stands. Against Denver (who the Bills humiliated) they racked up 33.2 Harm. Thus proving that penalties totally matter to the outcome of games.

Weekly Tracker

Some of these charts really highlight how much of an anomaly this week was.