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Penalty Recap: What was I watching as the Bills lost to the Bengals?

Even the known ref apologist (me) was pissed all game

Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

I know what you’re thinking: “That was one of the worst officiating jobs I’ve ever seen in a football game.” Normally, I’d explain the rules and try to get readers to see things from a lens that shows how well the refs are actually doing their jobs. Well **** that this week, as what you’re thinking is spot on. Alex Kemp and crew made some of the most egregious mistakes I can recall.

Yes. The Buffalo Bills did plenty to lose the game. They still got it to a one-score contest though. Would “non-****” calls have led to a win? I have no idea. But it’s possible. That question mark is unacceptable. Ask about the stats and formulas in the comments if you care because this week is mostly rant.

Standard and Advanced Metrics


Lol, oh man. Here we go. One of the most frequently seen rebuttals to my claims that the refs do a good job is someone saying “Yeah, but sometimes it’s about the penalties that weren’t called!” And usually I reply “I’m open to that idea, can you give me a time stamp of a penalty you think was missed and I’ll take a look?”

So yeah. This game was a healthy combination of penalties that were called and ones that weren’t flagged. So don’t be fooled by the low counts this week. The answer is “yes” by the way. I live up to my own challenge. I have time stamps.


As above, the same goes for the yards in that they’re an illusion to how bad this game was. The Bengals impacted eight yards on top of the assessed for the one big bar to the right. Everything else is pretty flat. Now for the “fun.”

Penalty Harm

Cincinnati Bengals

Spoiler alert for fans of my proprietary Harm metric: Neither team had much in this game. Objectively, the penalties seem like a non-factor but we all know that’s BS. The Bengals had 8.7 Harm this week, which is below our bad day cutoff and above what the Bills had.

What can I say about these penalties except the Bengals are the worst and of course deserved every single one and then some. Except that’s not true. I wasn’t a big fan of the defensive pass interference called on cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt. I think most of the contact was initiated by wide receiver Trent Sherfield adjusting his route on the play. Here’s a phrase that might come in handy reading this. “If it were the only bad call in the game, it wouldn’t stand out.” The rest of the called ones were pretty straightforward and no controversy.

I told you I brought time stamps and receipts right? Here’s one from the second quarter (0:50). Before you watch the GIF, here’s a fun definition copied directly from the rulebook: “Tripping is the use of the leg or foot to obstruct any opponent (including a runner).”

That sure as hell looks like he’s using his foot/leg to obstruct tight end Dalton Kincaid. Kincaid is a runner that the rule specifically makes sure we know are included in the protections. There’s also zero reason to think that Cam Taylor-Britt is falling or doing anything other than a slide tackle which, when was the last time you saw that? Stephen Hauschka in 2018 is the correct answer and I called him out for it too. Fun fact: For every skill position player there is one official who’s supposed to be watching them at all times. You can see the one watching Kincaid staring this down the entire time.

Was this a big deal? After the catch and no flag, the Bills had 2nd & 6 at the 38-yard line. An intentional-grounding call shortly after pushed the Bills out of field goal range. Yes we will discuss that call too. But first, tripping was made a personal foul for this season. It’s now a 15-yard flag and automatic first down if done by the defense. I believe it’d be assessed from the dead-ball spot (the 38). That means Buffalo would have had 1st & 10 from the 23-yard line.

If the next two plays remain identical, including the grounding flag, Buffalo still has one more try to make up for the grounding flag and that’s on top of being 15 yards closer. They had plenty of time as well. This doesn’t guarantee points but removed a likely field goal try with decent odds of making it. There’s a real good chance this was a three-point swing at least.

Side note: Flagrant tripping calls can lead to disqualification for the player. Just saying in case you see a player acting like Sub-Zero trying to bring down a tight end.

In the third quarter (10:29), wide receiver Gabe Davis had a shot at a touchdown catch. It didn’t pan out, but a missed face mask call drew some attention. I don’t think the catch is made for the record if his face isn’t yanked, but this is a player safety rule and not necessarily related to the play’s outcome.

That play occurred on 3rd & 9 at the Bengals’ 16-yard line. If called, Buffalo would have had 1st & Goal from the eight. Three more tries for the Bills to score a touchdown. Maybe they still settle for the field goal, maybe this flag was a four-point swing.

If you’re counting at home; the refs’ ineptitude possibly led to the Bills missing out on seven points.

Buffalo Bills

May as well cover all of these for Buffalo in their 5.9 Harm day. Offensive guard Connor McGovern was so ineligibly downfield on the pass. That call was the right one for sure. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd was indeed offside. Right tackle Spencer Brown’s holding call was ticky-tack but nothing to get worked up over. Now for the other three, starting with a roughing-the-passer call on defensive tackle Tim Settle Jr.

I could have sorted out the replay angles but have all I need to show you here. I can see this one, though I don’t like it. The rule prohibits forcible contact to the head or neck area. Tim Settle does hit Burrow with decent force in the neck while he’s wrapping him up. I pause again to show that Settle uses a roll technique to pull Burrow on top of him to avoid stuffing him, which is also prohibited. Again, I can see the argument here but really don’t like this. If it were the only bad call in the game, it wouldn’t stand out (and it’s not a terrible call).

Settle’s flag may not have had a huge impact. This was on first down and gave up some yardage. Cincinnati would have had second down if it weren’t called. Would they still have scored a touchdown? The flag helped them get there, but I’m not sure the Bengals don’t score anyway.

I don’t have a GIF for the taunting because it’s late as I’m writing this, I’m angry at the refs, and we all remember it vividly as it was hilarious. Flag worthy? Not in my opinion. If Tyreek Hill can toss up a peace sign, countless players can flip into the end zone, and just about anyone with a few yards on their opponent can high-step into the end zone, then I think this is fine too. Is it taunting? Yeah. Of course. But I think there’s “taunting” (this, Hill’s peace sign) and “Taunting” (flag-worthy and stuff like getting in someone’s face after the play).

This is a decent amount in my opinion, but objectively we see other players get away with similar actions quite frequently, so there’s also objective reason to think this was a bad call. If it were the only bad call in the game, it wouldn’t stand out.

Last but not least, the intentional grounding flag. Here’s the GIF you’ve been waiting on.

I have a long pause to highlight two things at the time Allen is throwing the ball, as both are significant to the conversation. Intentional grounding requires that the passer is facing an “imminent loss of yardage” as a result of defensive pressure. Check out that first part of the double stop. Do we feel like Josh Allen is facing an imminent loss of yardage? I don’t. Maybe if he weren’t already beginning his throwing motion I could see it. But as noted, he’s already starting to wind up when the pressure starts looking realistic.

For the second stop, look at Gabe Davis’ direction of travel. Note yet again that Josh Allen is already starting to throw at this point. Davis is still working to the end zone. He only works back to the line of scrimmage once the ball is in the air. Yes, the ball lands nowhere near Davis, but it’s pretty clear that Allen was trying to complete this pass.

This flag is failing the rule book criteria on multiple levels. From the refs’ point of view and full speed, I can maybe see what they were thinking. But let’s not forget that of all penalty types, this is the single most likely one to result in the crew discussing it before they call it, or after it’s called to verify the facts of the matter. That means precedent is to talk it over. They still got it wrong. This flag pushed Buffalo out of field goal range. So take your pick between this and the tripping no-call, but either way Buffalo did get the short end of the officiating stick.

Move over Land. ****ing. Clark. Your notoriety was just usurped by Alex. ****ing. Kemp.