In two different games from the Week 2 slate of NFL games, the challenge flag became a point of conversation. In the Sunday night game in Seattle, the crew failed to notice a challenge flag thrown by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before the start of the next play, and in the afternoon thriller in Dallas, a sideline communicator took the field to stop the game and inform the crew about a thrown challenge flag.
Just prior to the two-minute warning in the Falcons-Cowboys game, a deep pass that was caught at the sideline was challenged by Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, arguing that the receiver did not catch the pass in bounds. When the challenge flag was thrown, the instant replay field communicator ran on to the field and gave the timeout signal to stop the game, informing the crew that a challenge flag had been thrown. The communicator is a sideline assistant that serves as the communication link between the on-field officials and the replay official. They are formally known as the “Teal Hat”, which represents their uniform color according to the league’s color coding system for sideline assistants.
The Teal Hat has the authority to tell officials to stop the game, according to the guidelines for NFL sideline assistants:
Always be aggressive when conveying messages from the replay booth to the officials. … If the Replay Assistant tells you to stop the game, then stop the game even if the snap is happening or has happened. Grab the nearest official and repeat “STOP THE GAME, STOP THE GAME, STOP THE GAME”. You must be very aggressive. No hesitation.
The replay booth may have instructed the Teal Hat to stop the game, but there is no indication if this happened, or if he stopped the game on his own. Either way, he saved the crew on this play, and although the challenge did not result in a reversal, the sideline assistants were doing their job to ensure that the challenge request was properly recognized.
Later that night, in Seattle, Patriots coach Bill Belichick challenged a play where a runner was ruled down by contact short of the goal line, hoping to get the ruling reversed to a touchdown. Belichick threw the flag onto the field behind the play, and behind the deepest officials: referee Craig Wrolstad and umpire Ruben Fowler. The challenge flag was not recognized and no one on the sideline stepped in this time to inform the crew.
If a head coach wishes to challenge a ruling, he must throw his flag it in front of a wing official on his sideline to ensure it’s seen, even if he has to run down the field and leave the bench area. A coach can only leave the bench area to call a timeout or throw a challenge flag.
However, mechanically, this is a markdown on Wrolstad’s crew that the snap was not shut down on what ultimately was a touchdown.