Mike Tirico said it best at the end of the Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots game.
"What a screwed up night of officiating this was."
That is hitting the nail on the head.
The Bills lead the NFL in penalties, and many of them are self inflicted. This isn't a surprise if you have watched this team play this season. But tonight took officiating lows to a new level. To a point where officials need to start paying for their poor performances by being suspended, or fired if they have multiple poor performances.
Before looking at tonight, let us look back at poor officiating the Bills alone have endured. Don't get me wrong, this is a league-wide issue. But let's look at the issues the Bills have had with the zebras this season.
The first officials nightmare I have experienced this year was Week 4 against the New York Giants. The Bills had 2 touchdowns negated by phantom penalties. A holding call on Urbik was shown to be incorrect and negated a touchdown. Another touchdown was negated when a chop block was called on Incognito when he slipped trying to aid in pass blocking. This game also featured a Giants touchdown that was potentially scored after the runner stepped out of bounds, but we won't count that just because it wasn't clear enough on replay to conclusively call it.
Let us fast-forward to the Jacksonville debacle in London in week 7. Remember, EJ Manuel put the team in a deep hole early, but the Bills stormed back to take a 31-27 lead late in the game. Jacksonville, facing a 3rd and long, threw a pass downfield, which was well defended Nickell Robey, but was called pass interference even though Robey never touched the receiver and was in position to make the interception. Two plays later, Blake Bortles hit Allan Hurns with an indefensible pass to go ahead 33-31 (34-31 after the extra point). This was the second time this season I can confirm the officiating directly affected the outcome of the game.
Now, let us head back to Foxboro for the Monday Night Football game on November 23, 2015. Early in the game, Brady has a pass intercepted. But wait, two flags on the play. One on the offense for an illegal formation, and one for a defensive holding which is never shown. One rule of thumb I have – if the penalty is not shown, it probably didn't happen. Ok, whatever, another possible phantom penalty against the Bills.
Let's start getting weird here. The Bills get a first down later in the first half, called back on an illegal formation penalty where Seantrel Henderson is said to have lined up in the backfield. Unless the camera angle was bad, Henderson was on the line by rule (he was aligned with the hip of the center, which made him on the line of scrimmage). This play negated a Bills first down.
But the big ones were yet to come. In the third quarter, Tom Brady was scrambling to his right. He was about a yard-and-a-half from the sideline where he lofted up a pass. The whistle blew while the ball was in the air, intended for Danny Amendola. Amendola caught the ball (which had been whistled dead in the air) with the Bills letting up on the play. The officials got together and discussed the play, and incorrectly ruled Amendola caught the ball before the whistle, placing the ball where he caught the pass, then throwing a flag on Rex Ryan for sideline interference (a UC penalty). This play had two incorrect things done by officials – first, the ball was ruled inadvertently whistled down after the catch, instead of before the catch, which was clear as day during the play and in replay (this play cannot be reviewed, however). Second, the Line Judge who blew the whistle was very far out of position by moving straight back instead of laterally to avoid a potential out of bounds play, which led him into the area of Rex Ryan (who may or may not have had to try to avoid the official). Either way, the whole situation was handled incorrectly at the time.
And lastly, the last Bills drive of the game was a mess of calls. The first Bills first down, that was later reversed, should have never been called a first down. Again, it was clear the player was a yard short, and it took 20 seconds to decide to review the play, before which the Bills could not stop the clock without spiking the ball. When the ball was moved back to the correct spot, the Bills had 20 seconds less to make the drive work. Part of the problem was the Bills not managing their timeouts early in the half, but part was that it took a long time to decide to review the spot, which affects play calling. Next, the Watkins catch where he got his knee down in bounds before rolling out was a difficult play, so I will give a pass on that. But the very last play of the game is inexcusable. Watkins made the catch while falling. Without being touched, he scooted out of bounds with 2 seconds left on the clock. The ref keeps the clock going, and this is never explained as to why. Watkins was out of bounds on his own motion and never was touched in bounds.
This game was marred by bad officiating. For both sides. But knowing the NFL, not much will be done to make sure it doesn't happen again. They have given officials lower profile assignments in the past, and most of this group may not work the post season. But what about suspensions for the entire crew, without pay? Or firing officials who are poorly performing over and over again?
What a screwed up night for officiating indeed.