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NFL admits officiating mistakes benefited Seahawks during wild end to first half of win over Bills

The NFL's head of officiating said two plays at the end of the first half were incorrectly called in Seattle's favor. (AP)

Richard Sherman said it wasn’t a dirty play. The NFL admitted it was a mistake. Pete Carroll called it unfortunate.

Actually, the absolute mess of a sequence at the end of the first half of Monday night’s game was quite fortunate for the Seahawks, even if it shouldn’t have been.

And according to the NFL, it shouldn’t have been. The league’s head of officiating, Dean Blandino, said following the Seahawks’ 31-25 win over Buffalo that Sherman should have been penalized for unnecessary roughness for the contact he made with Bills kicker Dan Carpenter, who was attempting a 53-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in the second quarter. Sherman came off the left edge so early that officials blew the play dead, determining that he was unabated to the kicker.

At least they tried to blow the play dead. Sherman said he didn’t hear a whistle in the din of CenturyLink Field – if one was even blown initially – so he dived for the ball while it was still on the ground and collided with Carpenter’s leg as he was attempting his kick.

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“We were shutting the play down. That would be my call,” referee Walt Anderson explained, according to the pool report. “I just didn’t feel the actions and the contact, because we were shutting the play down, warranted a foul.”

But Blandino said it did.

“We looked at it and it is a foul,” he said on the NFL Network’s postgame show. “It’s no different than a defender coming offside and hitting a quarterback after the whistle blew, so it should have been unnecessary roughness.”

And that was only the beginning of a sequence that was both horribly administered by officials and entirely beneficial to the Seahawks, costing Buffalo a chance at what turned out to be three very significant points.

Carpenter went down in a heap after Sherman collided with his leg, prompting Bills trainers to run onto the field to tend to him. Because Buffalo was out of timeouts, that was considered an injury timeout, which requires the player in question to leave the field for at least one snap. With no other way to stop the clock and unable to use their kicker for one play, the Bills had to snap the ball and spike before setting up for a 48-yard field-goal attempt.

But that was pushed back 5 yards – and subsequently pushed wide right – when Buffalo was flagged for a delay of game, even though it was the officials themselves who delayed the snap. The umpire was still standing over the ball as the play clock wound down below 5 seconds. Anderson explained that they were holding up play as both teams substituted players following Buffalo’s spike and that he lost track of the time.

“Any time we end up with teams coming out, we end up putting a regular ball out, bringing in the kicking ball, we will hold up the play the play just for the teams to get their substitutes in and then we will move off the ball,” he said. “If there was that little time left, then that’s probably a mistake on my part in terms of not pumping the play clock back up. But I was not aware that it was that far into the play clock.”

Said Blandino: “Any time the play clock goes under 20 seconds, we want to reset it if we are still over the football. It looked like the play clock had run down probably to 5 or 6 seconds, so we want to reset the play clock when the officials are actually conversing and delaying the snap. I think that’s what happened there.”

Had officials flagged Sherman for unnecessary roughness, as the NFL said they should have, the Bills could have attempted a 38-yard field goal. The second officiating mistake, which resulted in the delay-of-game penalty, pushed their final attempt back 5 yards, from 48 to 53. Those three points would have come in handy for the Bills, who would have been able to attempt a tying field goal on their final drive of regulation. Instead, trailing by six, they had to go for the end zone.

The Seahawks were on the wrong end of three questionable calls in their loss last week to New Orleans. Sherman said the league later admitted to the team that officials erred on all three.

It was the other way around Monday night.

“From an officiating standpoint, I think they can do a little better than that,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said.

Sherman refuted the notion that it was a dirty play on his part, saying that he wasn’t diving for Carpenter’s leg as it may have appeared but that he was diving for the ball while it was still on the ground. He noted that Carpenter didn’t stop playing, either.

“I didn’t hear a whistle,” he said. “They say play ‘til the whistle, and if you don’t hear a whistle then you try to block the kick. I’ve heard a lot of nonsense about a dirty play. If you don’t play ‘til the whistle, they say, ‘Oh, you’re loafing and you’re not playing ‘til the whistle.’ If you play ‘til the whistle, they say you’re trying to hurt somebody. But I don’t worry about that.”