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Penalty Recap: Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers


There’ll be a bit of a departure this week. No GIFs. No discussion on the rule book. Most of my thoughts will be up here too, though the usual charts and a few notes are in their usual place. Why? Well sometimes a game is odd enough that it merits special attention. When it comes to penalties, that’s never a good thing.

Often I’m the lone voice defending the officials. And I’m sure some of you thought this might be one of “those” articles. Not this time. There’s a couple no-calls that if they were the ONLY one I’d probably look past. The refs shouldn’t be expected to be perfect either.

I don’t have any GIFs this week though because there’s a plethora of them already of calls that should have been made against Tampa Bay but weren’t. Not just one play from multiple angles either. Multiple plays from multiple angles.

The refs blew it. Plain and simple. That’s not absolving a lousy first half by the Buffalo Bills either. And that’s not to discredit a very tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. But Buffalo pulled it together and forced overtime. In a game of inches the refs offered several to Tampa Bay. All of those things can be true. All of those things ARE true. The refs blew it.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

When shown like this it paints a lopsided picture, but not damningly so. But of course the main gripe with fans and media alike this week were the no-calls. And I don’t have charts that capture that well.

Penalty Yards

This doesn’t help much. The Buccaneers negated more yards than the Bills but nowhere near enough to catch up in total/true yards.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

I’ll go through the formula once in case there’s any new readers. Dane Jackson’s defensive pass interference call was assessed at 11 yards. It also gave two free downs (occurred on third and brought it to first). That’s 1.1 + 2.0 for 3.1 Harm.

Now, I stand 100 percent by the refs having a **** game but I do want to be clear that I’m not suggesting a rigged game or conspiracy. I’ll start with linking my recap from the New York Jets game earlier this year. Why? This was the same crew as that game. In my recap I praised the crew for their consistency and accuracy. Don’t you DARE run to the comments with why this is poor evidence. I know, I know. The NFL sure isn’t rigging games for the Jets.

That’s why I said I was starting with that, not that it was the only evidence. Let’s introduce another piece. Buffalo had two penalties offset with Tampa Bay ones. If the officials were looking to hold back the Bills it would have been easy enough to just NOT call the ones on the Buccaneers to offset them. The first one on Taron Johnson would have given an automatic first down following an incomplete pass to start the fourth quarter.

The second set of offsetting flags called back a first-down pass from Tom Brady that would have given them a first down from third. By itself, Matt Milano’s flag would have also granted a free first down. Milano came up with a sack the very next play, forcing a punt. The Bills then drove down the field to kick the field goal that forced overtime. Both of these flags had huge potential ramifications to a surging Buffalo team.

If you’re interested, the Bills had 10.1 Harm, which is right on the fringe of a good/bad day and, sadly, better than Buffalo’s norm.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Want further proof that there’s no intentional rig job? The Buffalo Bills scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. There were six flags total called on Tampa Bay. Five of them were in the fourth quarter. That’d be really strange behavior from a crew deliberately trying to rig the game.

I know I suggested I wasn’t going to defend the officiating crew this time and to be clear I’m not. In fact I’m doing the opposite by steering anyone reading this far away from conspiracy theories. Think of it like this. If the entire league and all the crews are in on it, then there’s no reason for ire at this specific crew. They’re just doing what everyone does, right? Yes we’d be mad, but at the league as a whole. Also, if you truly believe in a rigged NFL it’s harder to be angry in the first place. It’s rare to get angry at a scripted show or movie for instance.

It’s the absence of a conspiracy that should lead to more outrage. That means the blame falls solely on this crew on this day. With a conspiracy, the league is rotten. Without a conspiracy well...

The refs blew it.

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