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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.

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)