NFL officials made two glaring errors in the final, chaotic minutes of Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings.
Thankfully for the league, the Vikings bailed them out with a win as both errors favored the Bills.
After officials admitted on Sunday to making a mistake late in regulation, images surfaced confirming that the officiating crew led by referee Craig Wrolstad missed another call in overtime. With the game tied at 30-30 in the extra session, the Vikings faced first-and-goal at the Buffalo 2-yard line. The Bills stuffed running back Dalvin Cook for a 3-yard loss.
It turns out that the Bills had 12 defenders on the field. A pre-snap image confirms that the Bills had an extra defender after Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell alluded to it in his postgame news conference.
As Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said last night, the Bills had 12 players on the field when they stopped Dalvin Cook for a 3-yard loss in OT yesterday. O'Connell did say: "I know it's moving pretty fast out there sometimes." pic.twitter.com/5Cc4sDNN7r
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) November 14, 2022
And this wasn't one of those situations where a defender is late running off the field on a substitution. The Bills played 12-on-11 on the play. And officials missed it.
The Vikings eventually kicked a field goal to take a 33-30 lead after losing 10 more yards on a second-down sack. A touchdown would have secured a Minnesota victory, per the NFL's overtime rules where the first touchdown means sudden death. A field goal meant the Bills had a chance to respond on offense. Josh Allen threw an interception on Buffalo's ensuing possession, securing the 33-30 Minnesota win.
This mistake followed another in the final minute of regulation that likewise favored the Bills. With 18 seconds remaining and the Bills trailing, 30-27, Allen threw a 20-yard pass to Gabe Davis that set Buffalo up near field-goal range. Replay showed that the ball bounced off the turf before Davis secured control. But the Bill were in a hurry-up offense, and officials declined to review the play before Buffalo snapped the ball.
— SportsGrid (@SportsGrid) November 13, 2022
After the game, NFL senior vice president of officiating Walt Anderson told reporters that officials should have stopped play to confirm the catch, and that it would have been overruled as an incompletion based on replay video. The burden of replay falls on officials in the final two minutes of regulation, where coaches don't have the option to challenge.
Buffalo advanced the ball to the 11-yard line after the faulty completion to Davis and kicked a field goal to force overtime.
Sunday's was a high-stakes game between two Super Bowl contenders that has implications for home-field advantage for both the AFC and NFC playoffs. Officials made two unforced errors that could have changed the outcome of the game. Thankfully for the league and the Vikings, Minnesota prevailed to render their mistakes moot. Had Buffalo won, this would be a much bigger story.