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Analysis: Isaiah McKenzie’s go-ahead TD wiped out by holding flag on Buffalo Bills

Was it the right call?

The Buffalo Bills lost a nail-biter to the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football, and has been the case all season, the officiating has been called into question. Keep an eye out for the weekly penalty recap and perhaps some thoughts on the Derrick Henry long touchdown run, but for now let’s focus on the holding penalty called on Andre Smith that wiped out Isaiah McKenzie’s 101-yard touchdown return—that would have put them ahead late in the fourth quarter.

The Rules

I’ve kind of become the champion of trying to parse out the Dead Sea Scrolls-like NFL Rulebook so let’s do it again. The first thing to note on special teams holding penalties is this, there is no such thing as special teams holding penalties.

Wait, what? Didn’t they call one on Andre Smith? Isn’t that the WHOLE POINT OF THIS FLIPPIING ARTICLE? Yes, but technically they’re offensive holding flags. I point out this distinction because it’ll save us a lot of time explaining the rules. The special teams variant is the same rule set as what we’re used to talking about. For a deep dive, here’s a thing I wrote awhile back.

For the overarching rule here you go. Holding is called if a player elects to:

Use his hands or arms to materially restrict or alter the defender’s path or angle of pursuit. It is a foul regardless of whether the blocker’s hands are inside or outside the frame of the defender’s body. Material restrictions include but are not limited to:

(1) grabbing or tackling an opponent;

(2) hooking, jerking, twisting, or turning him; or

(3) pulling him to the ground.

There’s more to the rules, but it’s pretty much all exceptions that don’t apply here. Now then...

The Play

For a convenient ability to loop the play, here’s a GIF I made, albeit without my usual software at hand so there’s no stoppages or fancy red circles.

Holding call

It’s not my best work, but the “hold” happens right before the 30-yard line. Looking at this angle this is flat out a bad-looking call. Andre Smith’s opponent doesn’t seem to have any significant difficulty disengaging and therefore doesn’t seem to have met the threshold of a “material restriction.”

Here’s the other angle.

Holding flag 2

I would highly encourage everyone to check out the NFL’s full clip here where you can get a better look at both things. Seeing the back angle, I still don’t love this call, but I do understand it. I think Tory Carter (44) is more playing to the cameras than “materially restricted” but usually when there’s that much jersey stretch you’re probably in trouble.

Ultimately I don’t think this was an unfair flag. Knowing how that last drive played out though, I can honestly say I would have preferred it wasn’t called. If we’re going down that path though, this isn’t the top of my list on things I would have preferred went differently.