Week 5: Vikings at Bears
The Bears opening drive of the game ended with this bizarre sequence facing a 4th and 2 (with the time remaining on the play clock):
- 7 — Bears offense broke the huddle
- 5 — Bears called timeout
- 25 — Punt team was on the field coming out of the timeout
- 17 — Offense started trading places with the punt team
- 8 — Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky entered the huddle
- 6 — Huddle broke
- 5 — Umpire spotted the ball
- 2 — Offense set in formation
- 2 — Tight end went in motion
- 0 — Delay of game
Bears coach John Fox acknowledged in a postgame interview where the fault lay with regards to the delay foul.
John Fox was not happy about the officiating, in particular the first-quarter delay of game. He said the clock ran without the ball set.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) October 10, 2017
Looking at the timeline above, there is a point. Why is the ball being spotted with 5 seconds remaining, especially since they were coming out of a timeout? Whenever there is an issue spotting the ball that disadvantages the offense, the referee will “pump up” the play clock to 25 seconds. Except …
Since there was a squad change while the clock was running, the officials must make every opportunity to swap the kicking ball (or K ball) with a standard scrimmage ball. There are 6 K balls that are opened from their sealed factory cartons on gameday and are handled by a designated employee. The K ball coordinator is seen above in the maroon shirt and white gloves. Yes, this K ball business is serious!
As I explain in detail in my book So You Think You Know Football, the elaborate K ball procedures are to fend off attempts at doctoring the kicking balls.
If timing was a little tighter, officials are to use whatever ball is available whether it is an offensive play or a kick, but in this case there was still plenty of time to spare. The Bears do not get the clock pumped up to 25, because it was their action to free substitute (and not some outside influence) that created the short clock.
Additionally, the crew had to give the Vikings a reasonable amount of time to match up on defense. The offense does this at its own peril, because if the referee decides the defense needs more time than what is on the play clock, it is a delay on the offense. Again, it’s a reasonable amount of time, so the Vikings still have to swap in with urgency. This was actually not an issue because of the quick huddle by the Bears.
All that considered, if the snap had occurred, the Bears were guilty of an illegal shift, as the tight end started in motion just as the offense was set in formation. All offensive players must be set for one second before a player may go in motion. That flag would not have killed the snap, and the penalty could be declined if the Bears came up short.
This is not to say this crew did not have some game management issues. An eye-in-the-sky voice helped adjust a spot in the fourth quarter which was an embarrassing slog to get the ball placed correctly. But on Fox’s in-and-out-and-back-in gambit in the first quarter, it was the play call, and not the officials, to blame.