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No foul for Lions calling a timeout they didn’t have

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saints down at 1

Week 15: Lions at Saints

The Saints had a touchdown taken away by replay, and had an excruciating five plays from the 1, resulting in no points. With the game clock stopped at 3 seconds and with the Lions out of timeouts, whistles blew just as the Saints snapped the ball. Referee Pete Morelli told a pool reporter after the game, “The timeout was granted inadvertently on that play. We stopped the clock. The whistle was blown.”

A Lions player called timeout, which line judge Sarah Thomas acknowledged. She hesitated as she signaled in the direction of the Lions, which is when it seems the error had become apparent. At this point, there is no undo action, just as toothpaste can’t be put back into the tube. The only thing that can be done is line up again as if nothing happened. Since the game clock wasn’t running, there was no issue with time gained or lost.

If this was an actual attempt to ice a field goal kicker with an erroneous timeout, then it is a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. In any other situation it is not a penalty, and the officials are to ignore any erroneous timeout requests.

This is actually the second time an erroneous timeout has been granted this season, the other occurrence being consecutive timeouts called by the Seahawks in a game against the Cowboys. These are major breakdowns in basic game administration. This is having the practical effect of the league demonstrating a lack of confidence in its officiating as a whole by announcing revised procedures for the postseason on administrative matters. At that, Morelli’s crew can ill-afford a gaffe in game administration.

During that same set of downs from the 1, the Saints had two touchdowns nullified due to an illegal formation and an ineligible receiver downfield (video at 1:26).

The first foul was called because lineman Senio Kelemete was lined up at the end of the line with an ineligible number. He reported eligible to the referee (see “Everything you need to know about eligibility reporting“) on the previous down, but as long as he remains continuously in the game, he must re-report. Since there was an stoppage (a timeout by the Lions, in this case), Kelemete is able to “un-report” back to his original position, which the officials determined by his lack of reporting again.

The ineligible downfield penalty was called when two linemen went more than a yard downfield on a passing play. There is an exception for linemen engaged in a block, but that did not apply here. Although the announcement was difficult to hear, essentially the Lions were required to accept the penalty to nullify the touchdown. The half is not extended by an untimed down if the offense commits a penalty without the defense committing a foul.

Pool report

The following transcript of an pool reporter’s interview with referee Pete Morelli was provided by the Saints with the topic of the question and the verbatim response by Morelli.

Q: [On  play  being  stopped instead of allowed to continue]

Morelli: That’s a good question. The timeout was granted inadvertently on that play. We stopped the clock. The whistle was blown.

Q: [On why no penalty was called]

Morelli: There’s no penalty on that type of play. The only penalty on timeouts is when they freeze a kicker, by rule. There is no foul,  no penalty,  granting an extra timeout.

Q: [On whether there is any difference in the rule in the final two minutes of the half]

Morelli: No difference at all.

Q: So it was an inadvertent whistle and the play just have just kept going?

Morelli: Yes.

Image: Michael C. Hebert/Saints

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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