For most of four quarters, referee Walt Anderson and his officiating crew let the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons defensive backs play.
Time and again, officials looked the other way as what appeared to be blatant, even egregious, pass interference went unflagged.
Then they made like the opposite of NHL playoff referees and called everything in sight as the game reached a climax, after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter on Sunday at the Rogers Centre.
With Buffalo leading 31-24, and Atlanta facing second-and-goal from the Buffalo 5, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan overthrew receiver Harry Douglas in the end zone.
But Douglas was flagged for an illegal pushoff — hands to the face of a Bills defender. That’s a personal foul. A rarely called personal foul.
The penalty was walked off from the spot of the foul, the one-yard line — huh? — making it third-and-goal from the Buffalo 16 with 1:38 left, instead of third-and-goal from the 20.
Whatever, at that point it appeared the Bills were virtually certain to escape Toronto with a 31-24 win. Especially when Ryan threw incomplete to Douglas at the goal line.
But Bills defensive back Leodis McKelvin was flagged for interference. McKelvin was tugging Douglas’ jersey a bit as the ball neared. (That’s McKelvin in blue, left, earlier in the game on Roddy White; AFP.)
From the Bills’ one-yard line, with 1:31 left, Steven Jackson bulled in to tie up the game, 31-31, with 1:28 left. The Falcons won 34-31 in OT.
McKelvin agreed when it was suggested officials clamped down at the end, after letting everything go.
“Most definitely,” McKelvin said. “We knew how (this crew) made calls throughout the year. And they let you play. They let you play, let you hold and let you do whatever you gotta do.
“There are certain things that they call — they call (contact that’s) high. But we can’t worry about what the referees’ calls.”
Right. A team still has to overcome. The Falcons did. The Bills didn’t.