Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Nov 2012

Officiating: Bills at Patriots Penalty Review

Do you like penalties? If so, you liked the Bills-Patriots game on Sunday. It had lots and lots of penalties. Twenty-two flags in all, in fact. The Bills fans definitely felt like their team wasn't getting a fair shake. Fourteen of the penalties were called on Buffalo, and ten of those penalties were in the first half. A couple of them were very, very questionable.

During the game, I promised all the Buffalo fans on Twitter that I would go through all the penalties on NFL Game Rewind and try to figure out just how much the Bills got jobbed by the refs. Upon further review, most of the penalties on Buffalo were legit. However, the questionable ones happened to be the longest ones, in particular one DPI call that should have been Illegal Contact and another that was just plain ridiculous.

Here's the breakdown:

Q1 12:29 PENALTY on BUF-85-L.Smith, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at BUF 40 - No Play.

Smith definitely jumps.

Q1 12:04 PENALTY on BUF-77-C.Glenn, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at BUF 35 - No Play.

Glenn hooks Chandler Jones with his right hand as Jones is spinning around him to get to the QB. Not the most egregious foul, but fairly clear.

Q1 11:37 PENALTY on BUF-60-K.Urbik, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at BUF 25 - No Play.

Urbik slowly moves backward before the snap.

Q1 4:49 PENALTY on BUF-37-G.Wilson, Defensive Pass Interference, 8 yards, enforced at BUF 9 - No Play.

Wilson grabs Gronkowski with his right hand trying to hold him back from catching the ball in the corner. Fouts says the ball is uncatchable on the broadcast, but I disagree. Gronkowski could have dived for this if he had not been held back.

Q1 4:01 PENALTY on BUF-27-S.Gilmore, Defensive Pass Interference, 2 yards, enforced at BUF 3 - No Play.

Gilmore actually gets his hands on Lloyd's neck, and completely impedes Lloyd's movement, blocking him from where the ball is going.

Q1 3:54 PENALTY on BUF-70-E.Wood, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced atBUF 20 - No Play.

Wood is blocking Wilfork. This is a questionable call, one of those "you could theoretically call holding on every play" calls. I thought Wood had his hands inside Wilfork's numbers, which is legal.

Q2 13:07 PENALTY on BUF-75-C.Hairston, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at NE 11 - No Play.

Hairston twists Rob Ninkovich and takes him to the ground.

Q2 5:46 PENALTY on BUF-31-J.Byrd, Defensive Pass Interference, 17 yards, enforced at NE 18 - No Play.

This is the strange one where the intended receiver is actually Edelman, not Gronkowski. The officials just blow the timing here. Byrd's contact is before the pass is thrown and should be Illegal Contact.

Q2 5:03 PENALTY on BUF-27-S.Gilmore, Face Mask (15 Yards), 15 yards, enforced at NE 47.

This is one is very obvious.

Q2 4:42 PENALTY on BUF-27-S.Gilmore, Defensive Pass Interference, 37 yards, enforced at BUF 38 - No Play.
This one, however, is insane. The pass lands past the photographers. One of the biggest DPI "uncatchable pass" mistakes I've ever seen.

Q3 9:44 PENALTY on BUF-14-R.Fitzpatrick, Delay of Game, 3 yards, enforced at BUF 7 - No Play.

Delay of Game is a hard one to screw up.

Q3 8:53 PENALTY on BUF-33-R.Brooks, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at NE 46.

33-R.Brooks ran out of bounds then ran back in. Marked incorrectly in PBP, should be listed as Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

Q3 3:15 PENALTY on BUF-77-C.Glenn, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at NE 2 - No Play.

Glenn oddly takes a step back, then forward, jumping out of his stance early.

Q4 14:10 PENALTY on BUF-20-T.Choice, Illegal Block Above the Waist, 6 yards, enforced at BUF 12.

This one is pretty clear too. It's a bit odd that they always announce "Illegal Block in the Back" on TV, but the penalty is actually "Illegal Block Above the Waist." I can't tell who the gunner is that Choice pushes down.

So, your totals:

Actual penalties: 14 penalties for 148 yards.

Questionable penalties: 2 penalties for 18 yards (DPI on George Wilson in the corner, and holding on Eric Wood).

Clear mistakes: 2 penalties for 49 yards (The ridiculous 37-yard DPI on Stephon Gilmore, plus the 17-yard DPI on Jarius Byrd should have been a five-yard Illegal Contact penalty.)

We might as well see how the officiating was against both teams, so here's a log of the Patriots' penalties. Notice that in the second half, the penalties went from being mostly called on Buffalo to being mostly called on New England.

Q2 15:00 PENALTY on NE-75-V.Wilfork, Face Mask (15 Yards), 15 yards, enforced at NE 34.

Not only does Wilfork hold on to the face mask for a long time, but rookie Justin Francis gets some too.

Q2 1:01 PENALTY on NE-37-A.Dennard, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at NE 36.

Dennard dives for Fitzpatrick's legs when he's about one step away from going out of bounds. Really stupid, and a totally deserved penalty.

Q3 3:39 PENALTY on NE-55-B.Spikes, Encroachment, declined.

Spikes is covering Scott Chandler flexed wide and just takes an extra step across the neutral zone by mistake. The Bills completed a 12-yard pass anyway.

Q4 10:40 PENALTY on NE-96-J.Cunningham, Encroachment, 5 yards, enforced at BUF 42 - No Play.

Cunningham jumps, obvious.

Q4 10:36 PENALTY on NE-55-B.Spikes, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at BUF 47 - No Play.

This didn't look like head to head contact from the press box, but it was clear on the TV replay. I will note, however, that the contact doesn't knock off Fitzpatrick's helmet. I think it just wasn't attached tightly enough and it came off when he hit the ground.

Q4 9:16 PENALTY on NE-51-J.Mayo, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at NE 31.

Somebody remind Jerod Mayo not to tackle a guy who has gone into the white area. That's called the "sideline."

Q4 8:21 PENALTY on NE-50-R.Ninkovich, Encroachment, 3 yards, enforced at NE 5 - No Play.

Ninkovich jumps early.

Q4 2:21 PENALTY on NE-22-S.Ridley, False Start, 5 yards, enforced at BUF 4 - No Play.

Ridley puts his weight on the balls of his feet in preparation for the play to begin, loses his balance, and takes a tiny step.

Actual penalties: 7 penalties for 73 yards, plus one declined.

Questionable penalties/clear mistakes: None.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Nov 2012

29 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2012, 10:48pm by Insancipitory


by elroy1 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 8:16pm

can someone that isnt a pats homer please review and discuss in great detail

by djm (not verified) :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 8:54pm

Way to be a tool.

by BigCheese :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 2:21am

Specially because the conclussion was that the Bills got defintiely jobbed twice, while the Pats deserved all their penalties. So, definitely, the first poster is one massive tool.

Please, go troll somewhere else.

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by Tino (not verified) :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 8:24pm

This is only a half-complete analysis. Where is the analysis of "non-calls"? Those are often more impactful than the actual penalties called.

by Bobman :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 4:12am

While your point about non-calls is true, that requires a review of every play, several times so the single reviewer can watch all 22 guys who are usually covered by 4-5 refs at the same time. In short, a huge time hole.

Since the game featured a lot of penalties that people complained about, it made sense to look at one single aspect (the reason for the flag) of 24 discreet plays. He probably still watched them each 2-3 times to be sure. Efficient and mostly satisfying, if (as you point out) not quite complete. I think saying half-complete overstates it a bit--do you really think the refs missed 24 calls? Or that their missed calls were at such cricial times that they affected the outcome?

I did not see the game, so have no opinion on that. I know that crucial non-calls have happened and directly affected the game outcomes, but then you get a chorus of complaints about the non-calls (examples from a Colts fan: Colts/Pats AFCCG in January 2004 and Colts/Bolts playoff game in 2005--the Mike Scifres game), and I hadn't heard much of that regarding this particular game.

by Paddy Pat :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 2:34pm

I saw only one clear non-call where a Pats player appeared to be offsides, for what it's worth.

by Stats are for losers (not verified) :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 8:36pm

The first false start could easily have gone the other way, since it was (arguably) a response to Wilfork's having made a sudden lateral shift from his stance.

by Andrew Potter :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 9:12pm

If the shift was lateral then it's irrelevant. It only becomes a penalty against Wilfork if he enters the neutral zone thereby causing the false start.

by MJK :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:29pm

Pretty fair look, I thought. The officiating was terrible, especially against Buffalo. The only one I thought was unfair to New England was the roughing the passer where Fitzpatrick's helmet came off (it was a clean hit, and the helmet came off because it wasn't held on well...but that will draw a flag every time, so you can't complain much).

Well, at least they didn't deduct 92 seconds from the clock by mistake, or award a punt return TD for what should have been a touchback.

by BigCheese :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 2:24am

Or uphold a terrible call of illegal forward pass when the replay clearly shows the QB'sfoot behind the line as he's releasing the pass.

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by dryheat :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 10:30am

I don't know if it makes a difference in this case, but the football has to be behind the line of scrimmage in order to be a legal pass, the foot is irrelevant.

by Dean :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 10:41am

They changed that rule a few years back after Lord Favre had a call go against him. Now, if any part of the ball or your body is behind the LOS, it's legal.

by Theo :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 7:23pm

and I was thinking "they repeat that rule a lot of times." That every part of the player must be passed the LOS when the ball leaves the hand for it to be an illegal forward pass.

by asdasdadsadasd (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 2:37am

The hit wasn't clean. Spikes did hit Fitzpatrick's helmet with the crown of his helmet, and that is crystal clear 15 yard penalty. When I saw it in real time I thought Fitzpatrick's move caused the helmet to helmet contact, but this was about as clear as it gets roughing penalty. Boneheaded play by Spikes. He did not receive the flag because the helmet came off. Spikes clearly hit the facemask while leading with his helmet.

I am a Pats fan, but Buffalo really seemed to be on the wrong end of some dubious calls, esp. the PI in the first half. Joke.

by RickD :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 3:11pm

I don't think anybody is defending the PI call. The best you can say is "sometimes the refs don't care about whether a pass is catchable." That wasn't the first time refs have ignored that aspect of PI.

by Karma Coma :: Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:34pm

How far beyond the endline the ball landed doesn't really tell you whether or not it was catchable. A low arcing pass with a lot of velocity could land 10-15 yards beyond the endzone and still have been caught by a receiver with a decent vertical. It's how high the ball is when it when it crosses the endline that matters. My guess is most NFL receivers could get their hands on anything in the 9-10' range, and some a bit higher, provided they're not tackled first.

I'm not saying anything about this particular pass since I don't have access to the replay, just that a pass landing amongst the photographers (who are what, only 5 yards back?) isn't automatically uncatchable.

"Profit is limit ONLY by your ability to BANG SPORK"

by Travis :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 9:07am

Not the greatest picture, but the ball appears to be at least 11' high when it crosses the endline. The pass eventually landed just beyond the photographer on the right.

by Bobman :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 4:04am

Q1 4:01 PENALTY on BUF-27-S.Gilmore, Defensive Pass Interference, 2 yards, enforced at BUF 3 - No Play.

Gilmore actually gets his hands on Lloyd's neck, and completely impedes Lloyd's movement, blocking him from where the ball is going.

Aaron, he *only* grabbed lloyd's neck? What, his balls were covered?

I thought you did a great and--as always--impartial job. Plus the pithy comments border on Tanieresque (always a good thing).

by BigCheese :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 1:39am

Err... "actually" does not mean "only." In fact, I'm pretty certain here it adds emphasis to the action, the complete opposite of what you're implying.

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by BlueStarDude :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 11:22am

Great read. This would make a good regular column.

Sounds like the Bills weren't hurt as much by the refs in their game as the Chiefs were last night.

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 1:55pm

I don't think it makes sense to do this every week, but it is useful after a game where most impartial fans (in this case, non-Bills or Pats fans) generally believe that one team has been particularly screwed on penalties compared to the other team.

by Silm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 12:38pm

New BUF strategy - direct snap to Spiller on every play because i dont see how you can trust Fitz or FJAX after they both tried as hard as possible to lose this winnable game. I feel bad for BUF but seriously, the penalties should not obfuscate the fact that BUF could have won and just beats themselves as much as anything.

by Shawn :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 3:42pm

I was going crazy after the George Wilson DPI because like you mention, Fouts kept talking about how the ball was uncatchable. That and the CBS cameras DID make it look uncatchable. Glad to see the All-22 cams show it was a legit call.

By the time of the Gilmore DPI, I was in full "refs conspiracy against the Bills" mode and couldn't care less how bad the calls were.

By the end of the game, after most calls in the 2nd half had gone against NE, I realized the Bills had just played a really bad half and had no one to blame but themselves for this loss.

In other words, it was like every other Sunday during football season for Bills fans.

by The Powers That Be :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 5:14pm

I can't for the life of me recall the last time I saw a PI call waved off because the pass was uncatchable. My impression has been for a long time that they don't even take that into consideration anymore. Am I wrong?

by tuluse :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 5:39pm

I don't know about waved off, but you often see PI not called when the pass is uncatchable.

by CoachDave :: Tue, 11/13/2012 - 5:42pm

Wait...are you telling me there was a Pats game where the opponent got called for Offensive Holding more than the Pats did?

Stop it. That's crazy talk.

by polyorchid :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 1:29am

As to the issue that has been raised regarding noncalls vs. calls, I have something to say.

Noncalls on things that should've been called are fundamentally different from calls that shouldn't have been called.

It's unreasonable to expect refs to call every penalty because refs miss things, and they miss things just because they aren't perfect, and it's unreasonable to expect even the best refs to be perfect.

An obvious and egregious thing that should've been called is obviously different from a nonobvious or not-so-egregious thing--I'm just saying in general missed calls are to be expected and shouldn't cause that much complaining and instead should cause more like an "Oh well" type response. That's got to be considered one of those things that is just part of the game, like rain and snow and wind and crowd noise and all of that random crap. Some refs miss less stuff than others, and it would be ridiculous if refs just completely ignored everything since anarchy would probably ensue, and I'm not saying it's not fair to ever criticize missed calls at all at any volume level--just that the complaints about misses generally shouldn't be loud and angry ones unless it's just really stupid.

Calls of things that aren't actually penalties, however--that's where referees are really just making up stuff that they didn't actually see. That's where complaining, and sometimes really loud and angry complaining, generally speaking, is more likely to be appropriate. Because it's reasonable to expect refs to not make stuff up. An ambiguous play that was slightly on the legal side of the line that is called a penalty anyway is different from a totally phantom call of course. But either way, to some extent, the ref is really just making up what happened in his/her head, i.e. calling something he/she didn't actually see happen.

So if you don't actually see defensive pass interference--including the part about the ball being catchable and the part about the contact occurring after the pass has been thrown--you just can't call it. You can't assume any of the elements. You can't guess. You have to just accept that you're going to miss some stuff, err on the side of missing calls, and if you don't actually see all the elements of a penalty you just have to put your whistle away and endure the boos. And I think we fans have some responsibility to save our loud complaints for only the very obvious missed calls, and reserve more of them for the erroneous calls.

I think it makes a lot of sense, in general, to do what the author did and focus on the calls that are made and not on the ones that aren't.

by PatsFan :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 10:39pm

Asking here since it's the only officiating-related thread going...

If the offense has the ball at the defense's 1-foot line and there's DPI in the endzone, what's the spot? Refs always say "Defensive pass interference in the endzone. By rule the ball will be placed at the one yard line." But that would be punishing the offense in this case. Is it actually the closer-to-goalline of the 1 or the previous spot? Or is it really the 1 yard line?

by Insancipitory :: Wed, 11/14/2012 - 10:48pm

Happened in the Jets@Seahawks game, spot is half the distance to the goal. Oh how I laughed... Poor Jets.