by Wyatt Bose ’23

BUFFALO, N.Y. – In what has already been coined the game of the year between the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings, the referees nearly cost Minnesota its second miracle of a comeback, the first dating back to the infamous NFC Divisional playoff game in 2018. Before the referees left an imprint on the NFL’s game of the year by holding their whistles, these two teams already had some history.

WR Stefon Diggs, who found himself on the receiving end of the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, was dealt to Buffalo for a first-round pick that the Vikings would then use to select WR Justin Jefferson in the 2020 NFL Draft. Jefferson, ironically, would haunt Buffalo’s defense throughout the entirety of Sunday’s game with timely catches, none more clutch than his one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr. impersonation on 4th and 18. The second-year wideout earned his respect on Sunday as he carried QB Kirk Cousins – nicknamed “Kinfolk Kirk,’” “First Cousins,” and “Five Chains” by Hall of Famer and Fox Sports analyst Shannon Sharpe – to a road victory in snow-filled Orchard Park over a ferocious Bills defense.

Credit: Fox Sports (And yes, Jefferson caught this ball).

After Jefferson’s “bicycle built for two,” as Skip Bayless called it on Monday morning on Fox’s Undisputed, Minnesota drove the length of the field and would eventually be stopped on 4th and goal on Buffalo’s ½-yard line. Fortunately for the Vikings, Buffalo would be pinned on their own ½-yard line after the turnover on downs and still had to run at least one forward-progressing play to seal the game.

Sure enough, on a 1st down quarterback sneak, QB Josh Allen mishandled the snap, fumbled the football, and Minnesota’s LB Eric Kendricks recovered the ball for a touchdown to put Minnesota ahead 29-27 pending an extra point. Allen and co. would tie the game with a field goal to end regulation.

To overtime they went, and to overtime the referees disappeared.

Mimicking their final drive of regulation, Minnesota and Kirk Cousins relied on Jefferson’s hands to get into the Buffalo red zone. With the ball on Buffalo’s 2-yard line, first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell called RB Dalvin Cook’s number on 1st and goal, but the veteran would be stopped for a 3-yard loss. Cook, who posted an 81-yard rush touchdown earlier in the game, was stuffed by TWELVE, not eleven but TWELVE, Buffalo Bills on his 3-yard loss. Rather than a 1st and goal from the 1-yard line, Minnesota found themselves in a 2nd and goal from the 5-yard line where Cousins would take a sack. On 3rd and goal, Cousins threw an incompletion intended for WR Adam Thielen and the Vikings kicked a field goal.

BUFALLO, N.Y. – 1st and goal from the 2-yard line, and Buffalo has 12 men on the field.

Fortunately for the referees, however, Josh Allen proceeded to throw a game-ending interception in the red zone to Vikings’ CB Patrick Peterson, rendering the referees’ missed call obsolete.

While this missed call did not change the outcome of the game, what if it had? Well, the referees made sure to leave their fingerprints all over the Monday Night Football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders.

With 9:09 left in the 4th quarter and Philadelphia down 23-21, Dallas Goedert fumbled on the Eagles’ 33-yard line. Before the fumble, however, Washington LB Jamin Davis yanked Goedert’s facemask causing the tight end’s head and neck to turn violently, allowing DT John Ridgeway to tackle Goedert from the back and force the ball loose. Several replay camera angles showed that referees were well-positioned with good angles of their own. While multiple referees were capable of throwing a flag on the play, none did.

“We didn’t see a face mask on the field. … We were reviewing whether he was down by contact or whether it was a fumble and then whether the Washington player who recovered the ball was also down by contact,” said NFL referee Alex Kemp after the game. The second part of Kemp’s statement is without question, as it is understood that once a facemask is not called on the field, the presence of one cannot be determined via replay, so all that could be reviewed were the components of the fumble and the spot of the ball. However, maybe Kemp didn’t “see a face mask on the field,” but I think this referee did (Kemp wears #55 so this referee is not him):

The Commanders went on to score a field goal that drive and had the facemask been called, Philadelphia would have improved their field position by 15 yards and were already well on their way to another successful drive. This missed call was arguably a 10-point swing in the game, a game that ended with a score of 26-21 before the lateral disaster that made it 32-21 (Philadelphia would obviously take a knee if they were winning at this point).

Furthermore, despite the missed call, the Eagles defense made a 3rd down stop at the end of the game that would have forced the Commanders to punt if Brandon Graham was not called for unnecessary roughness. Commanders’ QB Taylor Heinicke gave himself up in the backfield seconds before Graham entered the frame looking for a sack. When he saw Heinicke on a knee, Graham pulled-up and slowed himself as best he could, bracing for impact and extending his arms and hands to signal his restraint and unmalicious intent. He did not rough Heinicke, he merely touched him, as the young quarterback proceeded to do his best soccer flop. Heinicke then rolled on his side and cried to the referee for a desperate call, a call he was rewarded with that ultimately took the life out of the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.

PHILADELPHIA – Heinicke seen whining for a call.