NFL Reverses Controversial Playoff Penalty Call That May Have Gotten Team Eliminated

by Suzanne Halliburton

The NFL, in a most back-handed way, admitted there was a blown penalty call in a recent playoff game.

So Buffalo Bills fans, you have reason to be annoyed at the refs and the NFL. But the mistake didn’t happen in 2020, when the Bills and their fans enjoyed an idyllic season, coming within a game of making the Super Bowl. Buffalo lost 38-24 to Kansas City in the AFC title game, Jan. 24. Buffalo finished the COVID crazy season with 15 wins.

The blown call happened in the 2019 postseason, a Buffalo playoff loss to Houston, Jan. 4, 2020. The Texans won the game, 22-19, in overtime. The Bills, at one point, owned a 16-0 lead, so one blown call wasn’t a reason for a loss. But in overtime, with the score tied 19-19, officials flagged Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford for an illegal blindside block. The bad block happened on a third-and-9 play from the Texans 42. Quarterback Josh Allen scrambled for only four yards, then Ford was called for the illegal block. The penalty forced a third-and-24. Allen’s pass was incomplete and Buffalo punted.

Houston won the game on the next drive.

NFL Didn’t Officially Acknowledge Mistake

The NFL didn’t actually acknowledge the blown call on Ford. For background, according to NFL rules, a blindside block is when “a player initiates a block in which he is moving toward or parallel to his own end line and makes forcible contact to his opponent with his helmet, forearm, or shoulder.” It’s basically a safety rule. The blocked player doesn’t see the block coming.

The social media account for NFL Officiating posted an illegal block explainer video on Twitter.

The tweet said: “Here’s what officials look for when it comes to blindside blocks.”

And, in the intro, they define an illegal blindside block. “Players who seek out and have a clear shot at a player who has no way to defend himself need to use other techniques like pushing with the hands … or turning to shield, screen or get under a defender without driving through him when he is vulnerable to blindside action.”

Video Clip Highlighted Ford’s Block as Clean

The video clip highlights such blocks. It also shows when a block is clean and legal. Cody Ford’s block against Houston is in the video montage. The voiceover says the incident is “not the type of forcible contact threshold that has to be met for a blindside block.”

We’ll never know if Buffalo would’ve won the NFL playoff game if not for the penalty on Ford. We do know that even without the penalty, the Bills faced a fourth and five. Buffalo could’ve tried a 55-yard field goal or tried to convert the first down. Both options were iffy, but better than a third-and-24. Plus, the Texans were rolling in momentum in front of the home crowd.

The Chiefs pounded the Texans in the next round of the playoffs, with Houston losing 51-31 at Kansas City. The Texans were in turmoil in 2020. Houston hired a new coach and general manager as the Texans dropped to a 4-12 record. Half the wins came against hapless Jacksonville.

The NFL fined Cody Ford $28,075 for the penalty. Ford appealed and the league dropped the fine to $4,200. So at a minimum, maybe the NFL refunds Ford’s money.