Clock running during measurement missed by 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7 officials

Spot of ball in OT hurry-up offense also prominent mistake

There is no real ranking to the worst mistakes an official can make, other than outright lying about a call. Last week we said that the inadvertent whistle was almost as bad as it can get, but one crew found two different calls that rank very high (low, that is) on the list. Even worse, it happened in the same game.

Referee Clete Blakeman runs a very neatly threaded crew that apparently just unraveled Sunday. In fact, last season we reported how his crew operates “cool under chaos.” 

While measuring for a first down, the stadium clock began to run (video). More than a minute elapsed from the clock before line judge Ron Marinucci and field judge Buddy Horton conferenced with Blakeman, who  announced “we are checking the game clock for accuracy.” 

The stadium clock is the official time of the game, run by a league-hired clock operator. The line judge has primary clock-watching duties,but, effectively, all officials should be checking the clock regularly. In case the clock malfunctions, the line judge will take over the timing on the field, and the scoreboard clock must be turned off.

When Blakeman made his announcement, Marinucci contacted the clock operator’s booth from a sideline phone. According to a statement by the league, “Marinucci … spoke directly to the clock operator from the sideline phone and was told that there was no issue with the game clock.” In a roundabout way, there was not a clock malfunction, but a case of slippery fingers on the operator. But the clock operator did have a duty to indicate that the clock ran during a stoppage, even if he had no idea what the correct time should be. The replay official cannot intervene in clock matters, except that if a play is already under replay review, a reversal will result in the clock being set to the time that applies to the new ruling.

Although it had little competitive impact on the game, happening well before time is a factor, the timing of the game is one of the basic bookkeeping duties of the game. A league spokesman said, “the clock procedures will be carefully reviewed this week with all game officials and clock operators to avoid further clock mistakes.”

Later in the same game, near the conclusion of overtime, the Rams got a first down with the clock running. At some point between the conclusion of that play and the snap of the next play, the ball was not correctly spotted. Coach Jeff Fisher, who was gesturing wildly to spike the ball to stop the clock, was not sure why the ball was in the wrong spot. “I haven’t talked to [the league] about that whether somebody kicked it or what happened.”

Whatever caused it, the Rams essentially were hit with a 10-second runoff, because they could not properly line up to stop the clock.

NFL statement on clock error

Early in the second quarter of Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers, the clock incorrectly ran for approximately 1:19 and was never corrected.

With 13:40 remaining in the second quarter, San Francisco faced a 3rd-and-15 from their own 38 yard-line.  Quarterback Alex Smith completed a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who went out of bounds at the St. Louis 48 after a gain of 14 yards. Line judge Ron Marinucci blew his whistle and signaled for the clock to be stopped, which it was with 13:32 remaining.

While the chains were being brought onto the field for a measurement – and despite no official having signaled for the clock to start – the clock ran down until it was again stopped with 12:20 remaining.

The ball was short of the line to gain for a first down, so once the ball was spotted and ready for play, referee Clete Blakeman blew his whistle and signaled for the clock to start.  It then wound down for seven seconds to 12:13 when the officials signaled for the clock to stop.

Blakeman then conferred with line judge Ron Marinucci and field judge Buddy Horton and announced “we are checking the game clock for accuracy.” 

Marinucci – who as the line judge is by rule responsible for the timing of the game – spoke directly to the clock operator from the sideline phone and was told that there was no issue with the game clock. 

He relayed this information to Blakeman who then announced “the game clock is correct. Fourth and short.”  Blakeman blew his whistle and signaled for the game clock – still at 12:13 – to start.

The next snap occurred with 12:02 remaining in the second quarter.

No member of the officiating crew recognized that the clock was incorrectly started by the clock operator during the measurement.  Once the next snap occurs, there is no mechanism to adjust the clock.  Matters of timing are not reviewable by instant replay.

The clock operator is employed by the Officiating Department at the league office.  The clock procedures will be carefully reviewed this week with all game officials and clock operators to avoid further clock mistakes.

Ben Austro

About Ben Austro

Ben Austro is the editor and founder of FootballZebras.com