If there’s one thing we know about roughing the passer penalties, it’s that the NFL would prefer that they be called, whether there’s reason to call them or not. In the NFL rulebook, officials are told to skew to the presence of the penalty on a no-matter-what basis.
When in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the passer, the Referee should always call roughing the passer.
This particular phenomenon bit the Baltimore Ravens right in the collective posterior late in their 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The Bills took the ball at their own 20-yard line with 4:09 left in the game, and the score tied 20-20, after Lamar Jackson threw an interception to Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer on a controversial go-fot-it call on fourth-and-goal from the Buffalo two-yard line.
After the game, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said that he wouldn’t have done anything differently, and he wasn’t necessarily wrong.
Coach Harbaugh on the decision to not kick a FG: pic.twitter.com/Rkapy4Ve5H
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 2, 2022
One reason things didn’t work out for the Ravens on that 12-play, 77-yard drive the Bills executed to win the game with a Tyler Bass field goal with time off the clock was a roughing the passer penalty called on Baltimore cornerback Brandon Stephens with 2:06 left in the game. The Bills had first-and-15 on the Baltimore 41-yard line after a false start call on tackle Dion Dawkins, and Josh Allen threw an incomplete pass with Stephens bearing down on him from a free blitz.
Here’s how the play looked, and what referee Jerome Boger said after the game.
Referee Jerome Boger to pool reporter (@jeffzrebiec) on roughing the passer penalty on Brandon Stephens:
"What I had was forcible contact in the head/neck area of the quarterback with the helmet."
Confident about head/neck contact?
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) October 2, 2022
Well, that’s a tough one. There isn’t any head or neck contact, forcible or otherwise. Boger has a bit of a history regarding consistency of calls in his career, but when you are an official are told by the league to call roughing the passer if there’s even the appearance of it, and you then multiply that variance by Boger’s variance… well, weird things are going to happen.
With that penalty, the Bills went from second-and-15 at the Baltimore 41-yard line to first-and-10 at the Baltimore 26-yard line. That put the ball in Bass’ range, and after a couple of short plays and Allen kneeldowns, Bass made it ballgame.
Did the Ravens deserve to lose this game? Well, they were up 17-3, and for the second time this season, they lost a game in which they had a lead of at least 17 points — they blew a 35-14 lead to the Dolphins in Week 2 to lose 42-38.
But in close games, teams don’t need to be waylaid by bad officiating on top of their own issues. And in this case, Boger and his crew absolutely got the call wrong. The replay shows no contact to Allen’s head or neck, forcible or otherwise.