Possible ambiguity of down signal may have lead to HL error
Should the clock have stopped? In last night’s game, referee Jeff Triplette believed (and I fully supported) that, even though the sideline chains were advancing, his third-down signal is the only indication of the down. If he stopped the clock to send the chains back, it would have given Washington a fourth timeout in their hurry-up offense, which I indicated, and Triplette subsequently said to a pool reporter.
However, vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said that it would have been better to stop the clock to sort things out. In a statement, Blandino said, “In this situation where there is obvious confusion as to the status of the down, play should have been stopped prior to third down and the correct down communicated to both clubs. This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes.”
This opens the door to hesitancy in the future, which may have a referee stopping a running clock for even minor adjustments, when clearly he should not. My decision to support Triplette’s call to keep the clock running was partially based on a spot call in a 2009 Steelers-Ravens game. A forward fumble with seconds remaining was incorrectly spotted, and both teams feverishly swapped out personnel for a field-goal attempt. Mike Pereira was the vice president of officiating at the time, and he indicated that stopping the clock was not an option, even though it was, as he said, “chaos to the nth degree.”
I still believe that if a team is in a position that a frantic pace is their only option, then the team must live with the ripple effects as consequences.
But, the question remains, why did head linesman Phil McKinnely move the chains forward?
McKinnely cannot make a first-down determination, only the referee can. No official, including McKinnely, made the first-down signal. In the above enhanced image by Fox Sports 1 of the NBC broadcast, Triplette is signaling third down, but his arm is slightly forward (likely showing the signal to all six crewmembers). The best officiating practice is for Triplette to indicate downs two through four over his head. In his haste to get set for the next play, it appears McKinnely took this signal as first down, until Triplette vigorously pumped the third-down signal to the sideline.
This will likely be on the training tape to clearly indicate subsequent downs over one’s head to reduce ambiguity. Also, the head linesman will have to be assured of clear communication, even if it means calling the chains late to the succeeding spot. As long as the head linesman maintains the spot, the chains can even be set during the next down.
Statement from Dean Blandino
With 2:00 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, Washington faced a second-and-5 from its own 41-yard line with no timeouts remaining. Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed a pass to wide receiver Pierre Garçon for four yards. The ball was correctly spotted shy of the Washington 46, bringing up third down.
Referee Jeff Triplette signaled third down but the head linesman — with Washington in a “hurry-up” situation — incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains, which caused the down boxes to read first down.
Following a Washington incomplete pass, the chains were moved back and the down boxes correctly reset to fourth down.
In this situation where there is obvious confusion as to the status of the down, play should have been stopped prior to third down and the correct down communicated to both clubs. This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes.
Only the referee can rule and signal a first down. The official nearest to the down markers and chain crew, the head linesman, must wait for the first down signal from the referee before moving the chains.
Instant Replay did not become involved in this situation because the replay official determined that the ball on Garçon’s catch was correctly spotted short of the line to gain for a first down.