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Bills-Dolphins playoff game penalty recap: Ain’t that wild

Death by a thousand boo-boos

Tennessee Titans v Buffalo Bills Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills hosted the Miami Dolphins for Super Wild Card Weekend, with the Dolphins having roughly half their team healthy. The pesky porpoises put up a valiant fight, though, taking the Bills to the wire in a 34-31 decision in favor of Buffalo.

I’m talking about actual football, unlike usual, because this might be one of the most boring penalty recaps of all time — and I wrote one once where the Bills had zero Harm. That, at least, was interesting in its rarity. This game was just penalty crap. Oh well, let’s get to it anyway.

Note: This recap will have no GIFs, as it doesn’t deserve any, and it should feel bad about itself.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Penalty Counts

At first glance, this looks like it could be an interesting game for penalties. The Bills don’t provide us with a lot of opportunities for interesting flags, but it looks like the Dolphins might. In total, nine were called, and seven counted. Not so fast, though: quantity and quality are not the same thing.

Penalty Yards

The left-side set of bars gives us our first clue that we’re not in for a treat. The set to the right further drives it home. Specifically, the yardage is low on a per-flag basis for both teams, with the Dolphins actually going below five yards per flag. That’s a major suggestion that we’re mired in procedural violations.

When it comes to true yards, there were zero yards negated by penalty. Zero.

Penalty Harm

Buffalo Bills

The closest thing to entertaining here is that center Mitch Morse got into a fight with defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. They were both flagged for unnecessary roughness, and the penalties offset. See below for my thoughts on false start; I won’t waste my typing on the one by tight end Dawson Knox.

Cornerback Tre’Davious White was called for defensive pass interference on 2nd & 9. The flag was for eight yards and gave up one down for 1.8 Harm. That means Buffalo had 2.3 Harm, which is their lowest total of the season.

I’m going to go on a tangent here, because trust me, the Dolphins’ penalty data ain’t worth reading. We’ve already logged your click on the article; just go outside and enjoy some fresh air. Find a comic strip to read. Start a crossword. Anything but reading about the Dolphins’ flags for this game. On to the tangent...

Were there missed calls? Yes. I think it went both ways. Aside from the potential delay-of-game-calls missed, I saw an illegal block in the back that was missed on the Dolphins. On the other hand, I would have sworn that safety Jordan Poyer was going to draw a defensive pass interference flag. Morse got away with assisting the runner by pulling quarterback Josh Allen on a scramble. Overall, I think the refs wanted a mostly flag-free day.

Miami Dolphins

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Four false starts. Four! Why do I hate false starts so much? On the field, they do make some difference, so I just hate them from a discussion standpoint. They’re pre-snap, so there’s no potential to negate yardage or a big play. Since they’re on the offense, they can’t impact downs either. Aside from an occasional rounding error or a half-the-distance-to-the-goal deal, it’s always the exact same outcome. Penalty Harm was created to bring discourse to the penalty conversation, and false starts have nothing to talk about. Four!

Offside flags can at least impact downs, or allow for a free play. Defensive holding is similar, and even comes with an automatic first down. Too bad there was none of that to impact this game. Everything was yardage only.

The only flag I care to discuss was the delay of game, and that’s for two reasons. First is that it was victim to that weird rounding thing that occurs from time to time. I haven’t gone back to confirm, but I’m willing to bet the refs marked it correctly at five yards on the field. Sometimes the play-by-play rounds down when the ball is between yardage markers.

The other reason is the weirdness behind the timing. Arguably, Miami could have been flagged for this a bunch of times. The one time it was called, the Bills had made a fourth-down stop in a tight game and had to replay the down, giving Miami another chance.

The Dolphins had 3.4 Harm, which matches their assessed yards total, and is one of the most boring Harm totals of all time. Maybe you should have started that crossword.

Weekly Trackers

The closest thing to fun this week is how tight end Tommy Sweeney had one penalty all the way back the first time the Bills played the New England Patriots and is still on top of the Harm leaderboard.