The NFL this week quietly confirmed what many Buffalo Bills fans had argued for more than a year — that referees botched a key call at the end of a playoff loss to the Houston Texans that may have cost the Bills a victory.
The league highlighted the play, which took place in overtime with the Bills driving for what would have been a game-winning score, in a video about the correct and incorrect ways to pull off a blindside block. The Bills were penalized on what the league now admits was a proper play, knocking them out of field goal range and leading to a punt. The Bills never saw the ball again in the game as the Texans drove for the game-winning score on the next possession.
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League Admits Block Was Legal
As Ryan Talbot of Syracuse.com noted, the play in question came after Josh Allen had overcome some early jitters and was leading the team on what would have been the game-winning drive. After already bringing the team back from a late deficit to force overtime, Allen converted a pair of long third downs and was facing a 3rd-and-9 from the Texans’ 42-yard in overtime. Allen scrambled for four yards on the play, setting up what would have been either a long field goal attempt or a more manageable fourth-down attempt.
Instead, referees flagged Cody Ford for a blindside block on the play, handing the Bills a 15-yard penalty and forcing them to punt. The call was contentious, with many Bills fans noting that Ford’s block avoided contact with the Texans defender and didn’t seem to fit the spirit of the rule. The NFL has now agreed, with its NFL Officiating Twitter account releasing a video where Ford’s block was used as an example of the correct and legal way to block a player in what otherwise could be a blindside situation.
Here’s what officials look for when it comes to blindside blocks ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/XYnBD0mXHp
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) April 9, 2021
NFL Under Fire
The league’s apparent casual admission that the critical play was called wrong has led to some sharp pushback among fans and some Bills players. Some noted that the league had already fined Ford $28,075 for the block, though he later announced on Twitter that the league had reduced it to $4,000. Fans who were angered at the call had already raised money to pay for the fine, and Ford announced that he was using that money to donate to charity.
Might want to pay Cody Ford back then, NFL. https://t.co/0nGJPMe6Oy
— Brayton J. Wilson (@BJWilsonWGR) April 10, 2021
There is still other controversy surrounding the game. Long snapper Reid Ferguson took to Twitter to call out the league for another contentious play from the same game, the opening second-half kickoff in which Texans returner DeAndre Carter dropped the ball without properly taking a knee or calling for a fair catch. The ball was live on the field and recovered by the Bills, initially ruled a touchdown but later overturned on the field without going to replay.
Now do the 2nd half kickoff “touchback” call https://t.co/DUzqcHtkNh
— Reid Ferguson (@SnapFlow69) April 10, 2021
It was not clear how the outcome may have changed had the overtime call on the field been correct. The play would have given the Bills a long field goal attempt, a range that Stephen Hauschka had struggled with throughout the season. After the loss, the Bills also made a number of moves to bolster the offense, including trading for eventual All-Pro Stefon Diggs.