By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — For the majority of the first half on Sunday, referee Shawn Smith and his crew weren’t a factor at all. Once the game got inside the two-minute warning of the first half, Smith’s crew took center stage.
First, Efe Obada committed a blatant roughing the passer penalty, making full-speed, helmet-to-helmet contact with Mac Jones on a third-down incompletion with 1:29 left in the half. That penalty gave New England 15 free yards and a a fresh set of downs when they would have otherwise been punting.
On the very next play, Jones took off running up the left sideline for a gain of 7 yards. After stepping out of bounds, he was taken to the ground by Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes. Hughes didn’t hit Jones, per se, but he grabbed at Jones (seemingly in an effort to hold him up) and ended up hauling him down to the turf in a dangerous position.
This was originally flagged for unnecessary roughness on Jerry Hughes but the flag was picked up pic.twitter.com/RSUtYWMj1m
— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) December 26, 2021
As such, a flag flew for a late hit out of bounds. The officials then huddled, though, and decided not to call a penalty on Hughes.
That decision was a bit perplexing to all who saw the official throw the flag for the violation. It also didn’t sit well with Patriots right tackle Trent Brown, who apparently gave an official such an earful to the Buffalo defensive line that it warranted a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty was called by an official standing between the two teams.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 26, 2021
Instead of the Patriots having a first-and-10 at the Buffalo 38-yard line, they had a second-and-18 at their own 32-yard line.
The Patriots ended up punting, and the Bills ran out the clock on the first half, taking their 17-7 lead into halftime.
After the game — which the Bills won, 33-21 — Bill Belichick was asked if he got an explanation why the penalty flag was picked up on the late hit on Jones.
“Yeah, talk to [the officials] about that,” Belichick answered.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss, serving as the pool reporter, was able to talk to the referee after the game. Smith said that Hughes’ contact with Jones was “incidental.”
“What we ruled was, we had contact on the sideline. And after discussion, we determined that it was incidental contact that didn’t rise to a level of a personal foul,” Smith said. “There was no second act by the defender in that situation, so we determined there was no foul, based on that action.”
Smith said that the league office in New York did not weigh in on that call.
Smith was also asked about the taunting penalty called on David Andrews in the fourth quarter, after Andrews got in Matt Milano’s face after the Bills linebacker delivered a late hit on Jones after the QB went into a slide.
Matt Milano with a late hit on Mac Jones and David Andrews wasn’t having it 😳 pic.twitter.com/uUnCGQEUmG
— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) December 26, 2021
Smith said that Andrews was penalized for yelling at Milano from close range.
“After we had the foul for the dead ball personal foul on the Buffalo defender, we had the situation under control and then the New England player got into the face of the opponent and started yelling,” Smith said. “So, we had a taunting foul.”