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Replay error takes 15 seconds off the clock



Week 1: Texans at Saints

Centralized replay is not infallible, and it was a simple bookkeeping error that struck the same team whose last outing was marred by a high profile miscall. It was the first game that counts for the Saints since they missed an opportunity to seal the NFC Championship Game following an uncalled defensive pass interference that you might have heard of.

The Saints were ruled short of a first down with 41 seconds remaining, and lining up for the 4th-and-inches play, replay official Terri Valenti stopped the game to review. After a confusing review result in which referee John Hussey announced the call “stands,” it became clear that the 4th down was actually reversed to a 1st down. After conferring with the crew after the announcement, Hussey stated that a replay reversal with a running clock after the 2-minute warning requires a 10-second runoff. This part is correct, but it’s application failed.

Everything you need to know about 10-second runoffs

The purpose of the run-10 is to try to offset the replay delay, where a team could get a clock advantage solely because there is a close call on the field. Hussey applied the 10-second runoff from the point of the replay stoppage, from 26 seconds to 16 seconds. But it should have been subtracted from the time of the end of the previous play.

There is enough blame to go around. There was a crew correction to catch that a 10-second runoff was required, but despite having at least 10 people with primary responsibility, no one stepped in for a correction to the correction. (The on-field officials would not know the time of the reset, but at least should have realized the incorrect application). In addition, there are several game-day assistants in the replay and clock loop that, while they do not have responsibility, are instructed to speak up if there is a clock error. A source tells Football Zebras that up until last season, the replay communicator had backstop duties to monitor the clock in situations just like this (and for that matter, throughout the game). That position was eliminated in the offseason, with the duties redistributed.

Senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron admitted the error to Saints pool reporter Larry Holder after the game.

Since centralized replay began in 2017, we haven’t heard of a public admission of a replay error until this year. But combined with an erroneous pass interference in preseason, this is another major error made by the replay hub.

Riveron or one of his two replay deputies, Wayne Mackie or Russell Yurk, is responsible for the decision in replay, and that includes the clock. A typical replay decision will be conveyed by Riveron to Hussey with verbiage similar to this:

The ruling is changed. We are going to spot at the minus-48 [Saints side of the field], left hashmark, 1st down & 10. Reset the clock to 41, then run-10 down to 31, and run on the ready-for-play.

(The 10-second runoff can be offset by a timeout by either team.)

In situations where there is a coach’s challenge, the discussion of whether there is a charged timeout and a lost challenge is also part of the decision. This type of decision readout is necessary to make sure there are no gaps in understanding. Apparently, the clock was not even discussed between replay and the field, and some of that might be tied to Hussey’s original call as “stands.” It is obvious that there was a communication breakdown that there was an assumption of no change to the previous ruling of short of the first down. The replay staff must emphasize the fundamentals.

Even though it may have been embarrassing to have an additional delay after announcing the 10-second runoff, it is best for everyone to review what exactly is being done to make sure a mistake is not being compounded like this. 

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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