Darrin Simmons, the Bengals long-time special teams coordinator, has been doing it long enough that he knows griping about Sunday's holding call on wide receiver Auden Tate that negated Darius Philips' 92-yard kick return touchdown is as useless as it gets. But if he did object to anything, it seemed to be the official's spin on the play that came following the call.
The spin was Tate spun around cornerback Levi Wallace as Phillips shot by him for what looked to be the play the Bengals needed in an 8-0 game they had done nothing on offense in the first 12 minutes.
"He said he grabbed, spin him around and spun him around," Simmons said Monday. "He said it was the easiest call he made all year. That's what he told him. He said he grabbed and spun him."
Spin? The spin sounds like a spin. If that was his easiest call of the year, which game did they have on the tape?
A quick review of the TV copy shows Tate clearly didn't spin Wallace. Wallace turned and ran from Tate to chase Phillips. All Simmons could conclude was, "I've seen a lot plays in my time — a lot of plays that were holds and a not play that were not holds."
Tate and Phillips were a bit more adamant.
"I don't want to get fined, but he saw what he saw. There's not too much I can do about it, but I didn't necessarily think it was a hold. It is what it is, and I can't go back," Tate said. "I was just blocking up the one, and he was just backing up, so I was just running my feet, running with him and once D.P. got passed, he just turned around and started running, and I didn't even see exactly -- if I'm holding him, he's not supposed to be able to turn around if I'm holding him, but he saw what he saw and called it."
Phillips thought it was a little more than dicey, too.
"Nothing you could do about it, but I don't think it was a holding call," he said.
No question the NFL has made good on its promise to make holding a point of emphasis. According to ESPNStatsInfo, there were twice as many holding penalties in the second week of this season (92) than last season (45) and we know how the Bengals felt about the two big holds called on offensive linemen Andre Smith and Michael Jordan in last week's game against the Niners.
Simmons is worried about how it all affects his players. Tate told Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham he was thinking about that call later in the game while blocking as a receiver.
"It's become very difficult to block anybody and not have it be a hold. I've seen plays like Auden had in my 20 years. I've seen that play happen and never had an issue with it," Simmons said. "We have to try to coach the best we can within the rules. We have to keep the hands inside the body all the time. It's difficult in the kicking game because you're in space. You're not dealing with in-line play like offensive linemen or defensive linemen or tight ends are. These guys we have are out on the perimeter, out on the edges.
"I haven't quite figured that out yet," Simmons said on how he tells his guys to adjust. "Other than shield them with your body, I guess. You can't use your hands. It's difficult for me to say."
TOO MANY: The other killing special teams penalty in Buffalo, the too-many-men on the first extra point that allowed the Bills to score a two-pointer from the 1, was an out and out screw up seen on every age level. But Simmons and head coach Zac Taylor know it can't happen at the highest one. An injured player out for a few series and then comes back … That's what happened to defensive linemen Andrew Billings and Andrew Brown. Brown, playing in his first NFL game, forced them to take a timeout later in the game because he had to run off the field on defense.
"They told me (Billings) was now healthy, so Andrew ran onto the field for the field-goal block play, of which his substitute should have come out," Simmons said. "That didn't happen, so it's a two-part communication. The guy coming in better tell the guy who he's supposed to be subbing for to get out. That didn't happen. Andrew Brown should not have been out there but Andrew Billings should have told him to get out."
Taylor knows what has to be done.
"We have to have better communication to solve that problem. That's what it comes down to. In those moments, you're debating using a timeout," Taylor said. "You're thinking, 'OK, if they decide to go for it, we're going to get a stop here, and that's going to hurt them.' That's the balance there. Is this the moment we want to use a timeout, and we chose not to use it right there."
PHILLIPS SHOWS UP: All of which took away from Phillips' break-out game in his second season. He not only had the return, but his first career interception in the middle of the third quarter sparked the Bengals run of 17 straight points.
With right end Sam Hubbard hanging on Bills quarterback Josh Allen, Phillips got in front of the receiver just in case Allen would fling it, just like he did on film.
"He's a great quarterback, a guy that gives his receivers a chance to make a play," Phillips said. "If you watch the film the defensive line had great pressure. Geno (Atkins) had great pressure. The linebacker (LaRoy) Reynolds had great pressure on him. He just threw it up and I was ready to come down with it."
Phillips played 22 snaps on Sunday while splitting time in the slot with Tony McRae's 29 snaps in place of the injured B.W. Webb. He played more than that in four games a rookie, but it was his first pick and it would have been his first return TD for a guy that set the FBS career record with 12 return TDs at Western Michigan, five of them kick returns.
"I guess you could call it a break-out game," Phillips said. "I don't consider it a break-out game because we lost."
Simmons knows he's got something special. Last month he sat down wide receiver Alex Erickson, one of the top kick returners in the league, to tell him he wanted to give Phillips a shot on kicks while Erickson handled punts. Now Phillips has had a kick called back in each the preseason and regular season. What Simmons really loves about Sunday's return is how the 5-10, 190-pound Phillips bounced off 6-6, 253-pound rookie defensive end Darryl Johnson.
"Darius has made a play, honestly, in every game he's returned a ball in. I think ability has been there for a long time. Last year, Alex got hot, and it's difficult to replace somebody who's doing their job," Simmons said.
Tate knows he doesn't have to do much to get Phillips going.
"He sees green and he's gone," Tate said. "He has great vision and good feel for it. AE (Erickson) is the same way. They've got that kind of feel."
Simmons knows all about The Vision Thing.
"All the good ones do. That's where it starts. They have to have great vision," Simmons said. "I think he's fast enough. He's fast enough to score twice. But, he had a feel for it back in college. Some guys have that knack and some guys don't. And I think Darius does, so let's continue building on it."
But the ball he had in his locker Monday is from the interception. He's got plenty of those from college, except there was something missing.
"In college, they usually show what happened," Phillips said of the description. "I've got to take care of that myself."
Best believe his offense remembers: 9/22/19 at Buffalo vs. Josh Allen, third quarter.
NO GREEN: No surprise. The Bengals won't have wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) for Monday night's game in Pittsburgh and Taylor still isn't venturing a guess on when they might. That's going to be the 22nd game Green misses (including the 2014 Wild Card Game) and the Bengals are 5-16-1 without him.
But Taylor said they didn't suffer any significant injuries in Buffalo and with an extra day of rest he's feeling good about guys like pass-rusher Carl Lawson (hamstring) and left guard Michael Jordan (knee) being available in Pittsburgh. Lawson was active in Buffalo but didn't play after they worked him out in in pregame.
"It wasn't in his best interest to put him out there … he just wasn't quite ready to go," Taylor said. "We've got eight days, and there were no injuries of consequence that happened in the game. Guys fought hard, and now we'll get some guys back who sat out of the game. Some of them are day-to-day right now, but I feel like the eight-day window will get us a lot of depth back."
PRICE IS RIGHT: Taylor didn't get into it very much about that left guard spot. He did say Billy Price played well in his first NFL start at guard in place of Jordan, but wouldn't say how that impacts next week's lineup.
"I don't want to make any predictions on if he's able to come back yet," Taylor said. "Those are good issues to have in the O-line room, when you have a guy like Billy that comes in and plays well. It's only a good thing, so we'll continue to talk through that this week."
STEELER WEEK: Taylor may show some disdain for history, but he knows when it's important. It sounds like he's done his homework on Steelers Week. In fact, that's the first thing he uttered at Monday's news conference. "Steelers Week." And he knows what he doesn't know, the fans will remind him. In fact, ever since he got the job they've remind him of the rivalry when he's out and about.
"You try to educate yourself on the history of the Bengals against divisional opponents. I certainly watched my fair share of games this offseason, trying to prepare myself for what's in store in this division," Taylor said. "You get a pretty good sense of the feelings here. People aren't shy when you're out in the community in the offseason letting you know their thoughts on the Steelers. I know we have that working for us."