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Washington hurry-up snagged when chains advanced on third down

Week 13: N.Y. Giants at Washington (video at 3:05)

Washington had no timeouts on the first play following the two minute warning. The 2nd-and-5 play netted about 5 yards, which was spotted apparently short of the first down. Head linesman Phil McKinnley motioned for the chain crew to move to the new spot. Referee Jeff Triplette signals third down, and notices the chains are advancing. Triplette emphatically holds three fingers for the down. Fifteen seconds after the second down was dead, Washington snapped the ball for what they thought was a 1st-and-10 play.

Mixed in that 15 seconds, Washington coach Mike Shanahan requested a measurement from McKinnley, who said it wasn’t necessary since it was a first down.

It is under the responsibilities of the referee and the head linesman to “positively check the number of the ensuing down,” (Rules 15-2-8 and 15-4-5). However, Triplette’s signal wins out (Rule 15-2-1):

The Referee … is the final authority for the score, and the number of a down in case of disagreement.

In this case, the chain crew appeared to advance (on McKinnley’s signal) prior to Triplette’s third down signal. Around the time of the snap, McKinnley sent them back to their previous location.

The referee’s signal is always considered the only official down indicator. He does so after every play, and it does not matter if the down box is incorrect. When Triplette was asked by a pool reporter after the game if this was adequately communicated to the coaches, he said “I feel like we signaled third down. The stakes just got moved incorrectly.”

Should the clock have been stopped to correct the down?

Triplette says the fact that Washington was without timeouts in a hurry-up offense, it would disadvantage the Giants. “Normally, if it’s outside the two, we would shut the play down in that situation, said Triplette. “But there are no timeouts in this situation. We just didn’t shut it down in that situation because that would have given an unfair advantage.”

The Football Zebras Twitter feed blew up, but in essence, I was in full agreement.

I am not disputing this was a huge error by McKinnley. However, this was a situation that was created because of Washington’s need to quickly run the next play. Mistakes such as this are always more likely in these hurry-up situations, even with the best crew.

Shanahan is certainly justified to be indignant with this error, but he also had to snap the ball in 15 seconds. It is a side effect of the hurry-up offense just as much as the time it takes to get the ball spotted.

However, Triplette did not make an error in this situation. He indicated the proper down, and signaled multiple times to alert everyone. Shanahan knows Triplette is the final authority on the down, and would likely get a quicker play call decision if he watched Triplette for the signal. At no point did any official signal first down.

This became a moot point when Washington fumbled the ball on the ensuing down.

Pool report interview with Jeff Triplette

Observed by Zac Boyer, The Washington Times; Ross Taylor, Washington Redskins Public Relations; Larry Hill, NFL Observer; Jeff Triplette, Official

Q: Jeff, can you take me through the sequence of events on that last drive for the Redskins, where it was called a first down after the incomplete pass to Fred Davis, and then suddenly now became a third down/fourth down situation. Davis did not catch the pass over the middle. He was told it would be a second down. You announced on the speakers that that was a third-down play and that the following play would be fourth down. Can you take me through what happened there?

Triplette: There was a second down, moved to third. It was complete there at the sideline but not a first down. We signaled third down on the field. The stakes were moved incorrectly. After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The stakes just got moved incorrectly.

Q: What is the typical procedure in that situation where the stakes are moved incorrectly?

Triplette: Normally, if it’s outside the two, we would shut the play down in that situation, but there are no timeouts in this situation. We just didn’t shut it down in that situation because that would have given an unfair advantage.

Q: Now, specially, Mike Shanahan just said that one of the officials told him it was first down, or he was going to ask for the measurement. He then said that after it was announced as being a fourth-down play [and that the previous play was a] third-down play, he said, ‘Hey, you told me that was a first-down play. What’s going on here?’ That official then just didn’t give him a response and continued walking.

Triplette: I can’t respond to that. I don’t know what happened. I just know that we had signaled third down on the play at the sideline, made it third down.

Q: Do you feel that was adequately communicated to the coaches?

Triplette: I feel like we signaled third down. The stakes just got moved incorrectly.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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8 thoughts on “Washington hurry-up snagged when chains advanced on third down

  1. The officials’ ultimate responsibility is to get it right, regardless of the time left on the clock, or the timeouts left on the board.

    You state that Triplette CANNOT stop the clock to do so as it would be unfair to the defending team; if what you contend is correct, then replay officials would be instructed to NEVER stop the clock under two minutes to correct an error for any team without time outs remaining. Likewise, game officials would be instructed to NEVER stop the clock in such a situation for a measurement.

    To the contrary, Rule 4, Section 5, Article 5 states that …

    … the Referee may suspend play and stop the clock at any time without penalty to either team when playing time is being consumed because of an unintentional delay. Such situations include but are not limited to the following:

    (a) when there is the possibility of a measurement for a first down, or if the Referee is consulting with a captain about one ….

    If this was a question as to if the ball was caught, the replay official would have stopped play. Heck, if a loose ball would have come on the field in the same situation, the referee would have stopped play to remove it.

    Secondly, you state that Rule 15-2-1 says that “Triplette’s signal wins out.” While 15-2-1 makes Triplette the “final authority”, Rule 15-1-6 states …

    … if an official errs in his interpretation of a rule, the other officials MUST (emphasis added) check with him before play is resumed. … In the event of a disagreement, the crew should draw aside for a conference.”

    This was a correctable error, made worse by the crew’s refusal to take the appropriate — and required — action, to get the call right. The Linesmen missed it, Triplette missed it, and the replay official missed it. As Rule 15-1-10 makes the entire crew responsible for such errors, my guess is that we won’t be seeing Triplette and his boys in any post-season games this year.

  2. Garber hit it right on all counts. This is just another example of bozo officiating where the officials are not held accountable to their mistakes. Where is this permitted in private industry? Here however? Major snafus occur every single week with no repercussion. There is no accountability. There are 11 playoff assignments and a pro bowl assignment for # 12. With 16 at each position and a few “full timers” it is doubtful that anyone misses a playoff game. The only ones missing the playoffs will be the ones not yet eligible to work one. The media thinks getting a playoff assignment is a big deal – do the math. 16-17 officials at each position and 12 get an assignment. Nobody gets punished for screwing up. Until the nepotism ends, and the best are hired, the problems will continue.

  3. Bring back the replacements. They can’t do worse. JF has it right; no consequences, no change.

  4. I think we need some changes here, the perception of improper officiating not helped by saying there was no fault.
    With all the money involved in the power structures of these two particular cities, the expectation of fair play under common rules may be inappropriate.

  5. I agree with commenter Rich Garber and I disagree with you Ben.

    Both you and Triplette are attempting to hide under the thin cover provided by the rulebook.

    But the greater rule is clear: the referee cannot permit a material confusion, especially one caused by the direct action of his own crew, to affect the play of the game.

    NFL VP of Officials Dean Blandino understands this. Here is his comment, released by the league today:

    “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.”

  6. If the referee wants to be the sole judge of whether a first down has been made, then he has to get his butt up to the line and look at the ball and the yard marker. Triplette makes his call without bothering to move up to check it out. Very poor job by the referee here on the initial call, and then correcting an obvious mistake.

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