Bring back the replacement refs!
Not really, but the regular officials really screwed up during the final two minutes of Sunday Night Football yesterday. It was such an egregious error that Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth spent the remainder of the broadcast roasting the officiating crew, and justifiably so.
The Native Americans were driving down the field with no timeouts when Robert Griffin III completed what looked to be a four-yard pass on second-and-5, with a minute and 37 seconds remaining, bringing up third down. Except, no, wait, one of the referees signaled for first down, without measuring, even though the spot appeared to be short of the first down line. Oh well. Get the chain gang moving!
Referee Jeff Triplette signaled first down, and then signaled third down before the ball was snapped. That next play was an incomplete pass, bringing up… fourth down? Or second down?
The players saw the chains and thought Garcon had made a first down.
“The chains moved right away and it was first down,” Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “Next thing I know it’s not. … We thought it was first and 10 so we ran the play. Next thing we know it’s fourth and 1 all of a sudden. I don’t know how they can take it back. I feel if it’s marked, you have to go with it. That changes everything for our offense.”
And here’s Mike Shanahan explaining the sequence from his perspective:
In any case, the next play was designated as 4th down and a yard to go. RGIII promptly threw to Pierre Garcon again, who had the pass ripped out of his hands by Giant Will Hill for a game-ending interception (via Sporting News):
After the game, Triplette gave his reasoning for the third down call, and skirted a question about the complete lack of communication between the officials and chain gang:
“We signaled third down on the field,” Triplette told pool reporter Zac Boyer of the Washington Times. “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 chains just got moved incorrectly…
[Regarding whether Mike Shanahan had been told it was a first down] “I can’t respond to that. I don’t know what happened. I just know that we had signaled third down.”
We in the business call this a colossal fuck up. Nobody on the field knew exactly what was going on, and that’s what the referees job is: to maintain order and keep the playing field free of fouls and distractions. Unlike most officiating mistakes, which revolve around misinterpreting how a play unfolded, this one actually affected the game without the players doing anything wrong or controversial. Shameful.
Even the chain gang lady knows they messed up (via Timothy Burke):