The Green Bay Packers apparently received an extra timeout in their win against the Chicago Bears as a result of a coach’s challenge late in the 4th quarter. With 3:12 left, Bears running back Jordan Howard ran for a first down, and the Packers took a timeout when he was ruled down in bounds at the 16-yard line. During the timeout the Packers challenged the play and it was ruled that Howard stepped out of bounds during the run at the 22. The ball was moved back to that spot, and referee Carl Cheffers announced that the Packers had their timeout restored since the overturn changed the status of the clock from running to stopped.
While the Packers would have lost two timeouts if they had lost the challenge, restoring their first timeout may not have been correct according to the rules. The exact replay rules in the official rule book are somewhat vague beyond what plays are or aren’t reviewable. Most of the rulings need to be pulled from the replay casebook, particularly with special clock procedures. New language added to the replay casebook appears to show that a timeout should only be restored if it follows a replay review inside the two minute warning (p. 22, new language underlined):
If a team takes a timeout to stop a running clock after the two-minute warning and a subsequent replay review results in a reversal to a stopped clock, the timeout is restored.
The new language appears to show that the exception to have a timeout restored was not met because the review was initiated outside of the two-minute warning. Approved ruling 15.224 in the replay casebook has a similar situation, although it is important to note that this example is inside the two-minute warning:
First-and-10 on A40. With 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter and Team A trailing 17-14, QBA1 completes a pass to A2 in the middle of the field at the B42 and then calls a timeout. Replays show the pass hitting the ground before A2 possessed it and the Replay Official initiates a review of the play.
Ruling: Reviewable. Incomplete pass, A’s ball second-and-10 on A40, reset the clock to the time when the ball hit the ground. Team A’s timeout is restored. In order for the timeout to be restored, the timeout must have been taken to stop a running clock and there is a reversal to a stopped clock.
There is no approved ruling that explicitly states that a team will have a timeout taken prior to a review restored outside of the two-minute warning, however 4th quarter timing rules were in effect (the clock stays stopped for a runner out of bounds in the last 5:00).
All replay decisions are made by senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron or another designated officiating executive in the NFL replay center in New York. Even if the mistake was made by Cheffers in the announcement, any member of the crew, including the replay staff at the stadium can correct the timeout situation before the next snap. Additionally, Riveron or one of the designates in New York would have been aware of the timeout announcement, since the primetime game was the only one being played. Mismanaging the number of timeouts is seen as an avoidable administrative error.
Football Zebras reached out to the league, but they did not respond before publication.
This is an interesting play either way. Although the Packers were taking the timeout to stop the clock, they did gain a slight advantage by having some extra time to decide to challenge. (Under 2 minutes when a timeout is allowed to be restored, the coach cannot challenge.) However, they would not have had to take that timeout had the runner been correctly ruled out of bounds and common sense can seem to dictate that they should not be “punished” for an incorrect ruling on the field.