Well, thankfully the Buffalo Bills won once the clock hit double zeroes last Thursday night in Highmark Stadium. I know what many of you are thinking. In fact I’ve already seen a couple regulars on record with it. “Here comes Ol’ Skare to tell us why the refs were right.” Sure, Scott Novak’s crew were right on a lot of calls. And I could defend that. In the NFL though, close games are the norm and a few bad calls can lead to a “what if?” and that is not what any team wants. Am I here to defend the refs? Not this week. I think they had a bad game and even with a Bills win and three days to think about things I’m still a bit miffed. Let’s do this!
Standard and Advanced Metrics
Remember how earlier this season I kept talking about how the Buffalo Bills were lower than league average and how weird that was because teams under head coach Sean McDermott are usually higher than that? Sometimes I’d rather not be right. But since I was, I may as well toot my own horn. The good news is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were worse this week — at least when it comes to counts. Neither team had any offset or declines, which is very weird, especially with 20 flags thrown.
Even though Tampa Bay had two more flags tossed their way than Buffalo, the Bills had 12 more yards assessed. That’s fun. It goes back the other way when we count true yards, which for new readers is the assessed yards plus any yards negated or otherwise directly impacted by penalty. For both teams, the huge gap between assessed and true yards suggests one or more penalties that were a major factor in the game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Most of these are pretty boring so we won’t be discussing them. It is pretty funny that offensive tackle Luke Goedeke had three separate false starts. One was on special teams, and one was half the distance to the goal (four yards), but the volume is more interesting than any of that. If it’s not discussed here, it’s mostly to keep this readable. Ask about anything you think I missed in the comments. I do try to follow up.
Wide receiver Trey Palmer was called for offensive holding on a somewhat complicated flag. Running back Rachaad White had run for 26 yards on the first-down play. Rather than now being 1st & 20, the Bucs lined up on 1st & 13. Occasionally, the runner is down the field further than the flag occurs. When that happens it’s a spot-of-the-foul flag. White was allowed to keep seven of his hard-earned yards but lost 19 of them, which were added to the ten yards assessed for a 29-yard swing, or 2.9 Harm.
Safety Ryan Neal had negative Harm on his defensive holding call? What gives? The flag was assessed at five yards, but the Bills had gained eight. So technically Buffalo lost yardage by accepting the flag. This is an occasional anomaly with Harm as I don’t count the down difference. I could likely correct the math, but it leads to a rating that necessitates discussion, which is the entire point of the metric. What’s better: 1st & 5 or 2nd & 2? Tough call.
Finally (for ones that were thrown), we have offensive guard Cody Mauch and his offensive holding call that rated 5.2 Harm. Mike Evans had a 42-yard catch on the play. That’s a 52-yard total swing on the play, which isn’t good.
Before we get to the elephant in the room, the Bucs had 12.7 Harm total. That’s a bit above our 10.0 “bad day” threshold but not terribly so. With that out of the way...
Punter Jake Camarda.
I can’t defend the officials on this one at all. Camarda violated two of the most straightforward rules in the NFL. You cannot take off your helmet at all while in a confrontation with another player. There was definitely a confrontation and Camarda definitely took off his helmet. I did see someone indicate that linebacker Terrel Bernard had shoved Camarda’s face and partially dislodged Camarda’s helmet.
Sure, let’s entertain that idea. Being 100% candid here, if I were a ref and an opponent partially removed an opponent’s helmet I would let it slide that the player finished the job and took it off. There’s a “but.”
But I’ve never seen a player take off a helmet in the way Camarda did. Take it off? Fine. Take it off by swinging it in a wide arc that smacks one opponent in the face mask and goes for a second a al The Three Stooges? Not fine. At all. The rule is extraordinarily clear on using the helmet as a weapon in this manner. Disqualification. No discretion. Let me be on record with this. If I see Josh Allen do what Camarda did, I want Josh Allen walking to the locker room.
I don’t think Camarda is a terrible person. I’m not calling him dirty or a jerk, or any name. I do understand the heat of the moment and we’ve all done things we regret when escalated emotionally. I get that. I do. But that rule is there as a definitive line in the sand so that chippy games don’t turn into worse. Luckily no one retaliated afterward, but the point of that rule is to declare “Look dudes, it’s over. Everyone just better settle the eff down.”
Making matters worse, the refs threw the flag then picked it up after discussion. Rather than the “it’s over” message, it risked the opposite message stating in no uncertain terms “We saw it, and we’re not gonna do jack.” That’s a terrible look and a major miss.
Bonus: Long-time Rumbler MightyOak2020 asked about a possible intentional grounding on quarterback Baker Mayfield early in the game on a botched snap. I did find this play and Mike Evans was close enough for the refs to call it within their usual (very generous) grace.
A good chunk of these need no real story either, but let’s knock out some rapid fire.
Defensive back Siran Neal’s offensive holding wiped out a 23-yard return by wide receiver Deonte Harty in addition to the ten assessed. That’s a 33-yard swing for 3.3 Harm. Similarly, defensive back Cam Lewis was called for holding in the fourth quarter. This was spot of the foul and only wiped out two yards of an 18-yard return by Harty. Both of these occurred late in the game on Jake Camarda punts. Jake Camarda should have been watching the game from the locker room.
Edge rusher Von Miller’s offside gave up a free down in addition to the five yards.
Safety Taylor Rapp’s defensive pass interference was called for 21 yards. It was on third down and gave up two free downs as a result. For anyone new to the formula that’s 2.1 Harm for the yards, and 2.0 Harm for the downs.
Wide receiver Trent Sherfield wiped out a two-yard catch by wide receiver Gabe Davis for 1.2 Harm. Not terrible, but not great.
And now we have the touchdown drive that pulled Tampa Bay to within one score. Cornerback Taron Johnson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips were both flagged and kept that drive alive. Let’s check in on those because we’re already mad at Scott Novak and shouldn’t trust his work. Here’s the Taron Johnson one.
This is technically the right call, but I don’t love it and not just because I’m a Bills fan. Defenders are allowed to protect themselves from a receiver trying to run through them even beyond five yards. That said, Johnson initiated contact with Mike Evans early, and the rule says he’s supposed to back off after five yards. Contact is still happening, so by rule I see this one. I don’t like it because it seems Evans isn’t really trying to run a route. He’s trying to bull-rush Johnson.
So it’s not a BS flag, but giving three downs (3.0 Harm) on top of the five yards makes it sting when there’s a case to be made to put this one in the gray area of officiating. The incomplete would have ended the game. I don’t believe the NFL is conspiring to shape the game, but this is how those theories get traction.
For the face mask call on Jordan Phillips, I think we all could see that it happened. That doesn’t mean the play wasn’t without controversy. Understandably so as this too occurred on fourth down and negated the sack by Phillips himself. My initial reaction is that Phillips was trying to bring Baker Mayfield down and made the mistake due to the officials letting the play stay alive too long. Let’s check in on that aspect.
I pause at the time I consider that Mayfield is fully wrapped up. For full disclosure, I am a fan of the refs allowing a little bit to see if a quarterback can keep a play alive. That said, the wrap occurred at frame 46 on my GIF. After which Mayfield is pushed back several yards. Contact with the face mask occurred 23 frames later and I was recording at 13 frames-per-second or about 1.75 seconds between it being clear Mayfield was wrapped up and the initial contact. The yank occurred about another 0.4 seconds later by my count.
When was the whistle? About the same time as the face mask. The refs, in my opinion, should have considered Mayfield “in the grasp” after he lost several yards with no apparent hope of being able to unload the ball. Would it have been fast enough to prevent the face mask? I think it’s possible, but won’t guarantee it. Being Devil’s Advocate for Jordan Phillips, I left the flag in real time deliberately. I don’t think he had time to realize what he was grabbing.
My conclusion? The refs should have blown it dead quicker, but I’m not sure it would have stopped the penalty. If the whistle was blown before though, would it have been considered a change of possession and set Buffalo up with 1st & 25? I’m not actually 100% sure on this aspect of the rule and I’m too mad at Scott Novak to figure it out for sure.
The Bills had 21.3 Harm, which is a very bad day with Harm but only their second worst of the season.