Seahawks’ fun, thrilling win over Bills overshadowed by terrible officiating

On Monday night, the Seahawks and Bills reminded everyone who might have forgotten just how much fun the NFL can be. And, unfortunately, the refs also chimed in with the latest evidence of the league’s problems.

Seattle held on for dear life to capture a 31–25 win, holding the Bills on a 4th-and-goal in the closing seconds after a huge Cliff Avril sacked pushed Buffalo back to the 15-yard line. It certainly will not go unnoticed, though, that the Bills would have been able to kick a game-tying field goal there were it not for an officiating train wreck at the end of the first half. That bizarre sequence cost the Bills three critical points, which later forced them to push for the end zone in the closing seconds.

A quick recap of the mess prior to halftime. Buffalo kicker Dan Carpenter was on to attempt a 53-yard field goal when Seattle CB Richard Sherman jumped offside. The play was blown dead because Sherman was ruled to be unabated to Carpenter, but Sherman continued on with his block attempt and flattened Carpenter as he completed his motion.

Sherman was somehow not flagged for unnecessary roughness on the hit, so when Carpenter required a brief visit from Buffalo’s trainer he had to be removed from the game for one play. The Bills spiked the ball to get him back on the field for another shot, with one second left. The officials then failed to reset the play clock before the ensuing attempt, leading to a delay of game that wiped out his game-tying kick. Carpenter, after all the chaos, missed from 54 yards on his third try.

Got all that? Long story short: Walt Coleman’s crew botched the entire sequence, and the mistakes came back to haunt Buffalo later.

“Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” said Buffalo coach Rex Ryan. He then was asked if he received an explanation for the events. “It doesn’t matter. It was wrong. It was clear what happened, the guy jumps offside and roughs our kicker. … Then of course, they had to put the K-ball [the ball used for kicks] out there and they don’t reset the clock. From an officiating standpoint, I think they can do a little better than that.”

NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino admitted as much, both on Twitter and during an interview with the NFL Network once the game ended.

“We certainly don’t want to miss calls like that,” said Blandino, who earlier had clarified that Sherman should have been given a 15-yard penalty, which would have allowed Carpenter to stay on the field. “We’re absolutely going to address it. Anytime you have a sequence like that at any point during the game, we want to see what happened and just walk through the steps of where the breakdown was. Regardless of the outcome of the game, we’re going to address the situation with our crew.”

This is most unfortunate because it overshadows what was a fantastic, thrilling game between two teams in need of a victory.

The Seahawks managed to hang 31 points on the board, despite having no semblance of a workable run game. Their two backs, Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise, combined for 10 yards on eight carries (although Michael scored on a short TD run)—an effort that forced QB Russell Wilson to attack through the air.

Wilson did just that. He picked on the Buffalo corners en route to a 20-for-26 passing night and 282 yards. He also threw for two TDs and ran for a third, ending a month-long scoring drought for the Seahawks’ quarterback. Both of the scoring tosses landed in TE Jimmy Graham’s arms, as he continued his incredible comeback from the devastating injury that ended his 2015 season.


Seattle’s defense did the minimum required on the other side, as well. The Bills were seven yards from a potential game-winning touchdown in the final seconds when K.J. Wright and Avril sacked Tyrod Taylor on back-to-back plays. Avril scorched Jordan Mills around the right side of Buffalo’s line and slung Taylor to the ground for a huge loss. Taylor’s desperation fourth-down throw to Robert Woods fell incomplete.

Other than that final stand, the Seahawks had not been able to do much against Taylor all night. Taylor was dazzling, in what may have been the most impressive performance of his career. He finished with 289 yards passing, another 43 rushing and two touchdowns.

On top of that, Taylor also delivered one of the best plays by a quarterback—any quarterback—all season. During that final and ill-fated Buffalo drive, Taylor dodged traffic in the pocket on a 3rd-and-21 and fired a dart on the run to Woods for 22 yards.

His heroics were not enough in the end, in large part because of how Wilson played. Buffalo needed one more play to pull off the upset, only to fall short.

Of course, this thriller easily could have headed to overtime tied at 31, had the officials kept it together late in the first half. A penalty on Sherman or a reset of the play clock before Buffalo’s delay of game—both things that should have happened, per Blandino—and the Seahawks’ lead would have been 28–20 at the break, not 28–17.

There’s no denying the mistakes loomed large, which is too bad. This was as entertaining a game, from start to finish, as the NFL has turned in during a disheartening regular season.

We should be talking about Graham’s resurgence, the mesmerizing Wilson-Taylor head-to-head, or the Seahawks’ position as perhaps the NFC team best equipped to challenge Dallas. And we will, but only in addition to yet another examination of the NFL’s painfully flawed officiating system. 

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