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Penalty recap: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots


As important as the Buffalo Bills’ victory over the New England Patriots was, we all know it’s really second fiddle to talking about the rules. Sure, sure. The Bills took back the division and can control their own fate with just two more wins. And yes, that’s great. Is it more fun than penalties though? Hardly.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

When it comes to the total number of flags thrown (true count), the two teams were neck-and-neck and just under league average. Two penalties offset, and the Bills declined two flags on New England to explain the assessed count differences. Remember, penalties are most often declined when something worse happened to your team. Overall, both teams were better than league average.

Penalty Yards

The same is true for yards. Buffalo is just a bit below average, while the Patriots are significantly lower. The two teams negated similar amounts of yardage via penalty.

Penalty Harm

New England Patriots

David Andrews’s taunting was offset with an unnecessary roughness on Matt Milano at the end of the game. You might come to the conclusion the two teams weren’t getting along very well.

For the record I don’t like the Milano call. Here’s the rule on contact with a sliding player:

A defender must pull up when a runner begins a feet-first slide. This does not mean that all contact by a defender is illegal. If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it is not a foul unless the defender makes forcible contact into the head or neck area of the runner with the helmet, shoulder, or forearm, or commits some other act that is unnecessary roughness.

Personally I think the contact was unavoidable and there’s clearly no contact to the head or neck area.

Matthew Judon was called for defensive holding. It was declined as Josh Allen found Isaiah McKenzie for 28 yards. Similarly, Jalen Mills was called for holding on an 18-yard catch by McKenzie.

Christian Barmore was called for encroachment, which I wouldn’t ordinarily talk about. In this case though, let’s all get a chuckle for the Patriots falling for the ol’ E.J. Manuel special.

Trent Brown was called for unsportsmanlike conduct (not sure why it wasn’t taunting). This one is also worth a chuckle. The Patriots caught a break with a roughing-the-passer flag (see below) extending a drive at the end of the first half. With new life they gained seven yards on first down. Between downs, Brown started jawing at the defense and pushed his team back 15 yards. They couldn’t recover from it. It was also right after the Jerry Hughes flag was picked up.

Speaking of which, I think it speaks volumes that the general reaction was that the flag was called back. I think it meets the criteria for a horse-collar tackle for sure, but I also feel this was a good judgment call by the refs. Hughes definitely seemed like he was trying to help Mac Jones.

The Patriots’ most impactful flag of the day was on Jonnu Smith. The offensive holding came on a successful flea flicker that went for 19 yards. Ten yards plus 19 yards = 2.9 Harm.

The Patriots had 4.9 Harm total, which is a really good day.

Buffalo Bills

Right off the bat you can easily tell the Bills had a rougher penalty day than the Patriots so let’s get it out of the way. The Bills had 16.2 Harm total, which is a really bad day. This was mostly off the back of the Daryl Williams ineligible downfield flag. This wiped out a touchdown and 12 yards. That’s in addition to the five assessed yards. For the formula that’s 5 yards + 12 yards + 7 points. Or 0.5 +1.2 + 7.0 = 8.7 Harm.

Dawson Knox was called for offensive holding, which wiped out a five-yard gain. Matt Milano’s defensive holding gave up a first down (from second). Emmanuel Sanders was called for offensive pass interference, which was the assessed yards only.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the roughing-the-passer flag on Efe Obada.

In contrast to the Milano flag for roughness, I think this is 100 percent the right call. I think it’s an easy call to see on the replay that there’s contact to the “head or neck area” of Mac Jones. Sometimes the defender is in a tough spot, and Efe Obada shows that here.

Weekly Trackers

Two things to note in the Most Wanted this week. Emmanuel Sanders pulls ahead of Jordan Poyer. Daryl Williams enters the fray with his negated touchdown. The lesson is always the same—negating points is always a big deal.