Officiating was a major debacle down the stretch of Bengals vs. Chiefs, with NFL fans crying foul on multiple occasions.
One such moment came at a pivotal moment of the game with under two minutes left, when Patrick Mahomes scrambled to his right on third-and-4 and was hit late by Joseph Ossai, with the ensuing penalty putting the Chiefs firmly in field goal range.
NFL fans have glommed onto that sequence as a prime example of inequitable officiating, saying that the Bengals were held at multiple points on the play.
The result would have been offsetting penalties and a replay of third down from the Bengals’ 48-yard line with eight seconds left. Instead, the Chiefs were able to kick what was effectively a game-winning field goal.
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Mahomes gives it his all for the first down!
📺: #CINvsKC on CBS
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/fM5ertlhHi pic.twitter.com/z78Phcfkyp
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2023
There is one problem with blaming officials for missing holding calls on the final play: There wasn’t a hold. Trey Hendrickson was tied up with Orlando Brown while B.J. Hill and Trey Smith went at it, but there are numerous reasons no flag was thrown:
Why officials didn’t call holding on Patrick Mahomes scramble
1. Mahomes broke the pocket
Generally speaking, the NFL is more lenient on holding if the quarterback is adjusting direction, causing defenders to disengage. When that happens, there’s more of a no-holds-barred mentality among officials all over the field, not just in the trenches.
It’s a bit like how the illegal contact rules downfield shift when the quarterback starts to scramble. Linemen still have to do their jobs. While not explicitly in the rulebook, that’s the way games are often called.
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2. They didn’t restrict the angle of pursuit
Holding is a very misunderstood penalty. Former Browns lineman and NFL ironman Joe Thomas came out to defend the Chiefs after the social media storm regarding the no-call.
This is not a hold… Get over yourself if you think it was because this gets called only in high school, but it’s not within the bounds of what is considered holding in the NFL because Browns’ hands were inside the framework of the DE’s cylinder, and the feet were not beat https://t.co/0MECBqEdzJ
— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) January 30, 2023
Regarding the “framework” piece of this, that isn’t entirely relevant. Per the NFL rulebook:
Use his hands or arms to materially restrict an opponent or alter the defender’s path or angle of pursuit. It is a foul regardless of whether the blocker’s hands are inside or outside the frame of the defender’s body. Material restrictions include but are not limited to:
- grabbing or tackling an opponent;
- hooking, jerking, twisting, or turning him; or
- pulling him to the ground.
However, by this definition, Hendrickson clearly wasn’t held coming around the outside. Brown had his feet outside of Hendrickson’s and didn’t tackle, hook, or pull him, making the play clean. So what of Hill and Smith?
MORE: How controversial calls and non-calls played a role in the ending to Bengals vs. Chiefs
3. A rip move changes the rules
The rip move is one of the most potent moves in a defender’s arsenal, and it forces offensive linemen to hold to combat it. When a defensive lineman uses a rip move, it can look like holding after, but it actually isn’t.
Watch the play above again and take note of Hill’s pass-rush technique in the center. A rip move is when a defensive lineman goes under and up the offensive lineman’s side, grabbing hold of their arm in the process.
Once Hill did that, it negated Smith holding him. Again, per the NFL rulebook, it is not holding “if, during a defensive charge, a defensive player uses a ‘rip’ technique that that puts an offensive player in a position that would that would normally be holding.”
The controversy will rage on, of course, but the harsh reality is screen-shotting any frame from any play is going to result in something that looks like a penalty. Such was the case on this play. And while other calls can and will be debated, the officials were right to pocket flags on the Chiefs’ offensive linemen on this play.