Art McNally, the National Football League's director of officiating, said yesterday, "There is no question" that the Redskins failed to beat the clock in the final, frantic two seconds of play Monday night against the Baltimore Colts.
"The Redskins never got the call off on time, I have no doubts about that," McNally said yesterday from his New York office.
However, at Redskin Park, George Allen disagreed, offering a smoking-gun line of defense to claim that quarterback Joe Theismann had the football in his hands when the final gun sounded signaling the end of the game and a 10-3 Baltimore victory.
Theismann went through with the play, throwing a 13-yard pass to Calvin Hill in the end zone. But even as Theismann scrambled away from several Colt pursuers, at least two officials, according to McNally, were waving their arms and indicating the game had ended.
"As an old track coach, well, that's how you start the watch to time people, not by the sound of the gun but the smoke," Allen said. "Looking at the film, the ball was in Joe's hand when the smoke came up.
"If they said the play had been ruled dead, and evidently that's what they did, they must have done that before the gun went off.
"According to our offensive films, Joe had the ball and the play should have been allowed to continue. I'm going to notify the league and I'll still file the protest."
But McNally quickly shot down Allen's reasoning. "When the gun fires has no bearing on the play," McNally said. "It just signals the game is over. The only important thing is the clock, and the referee ruled the clock had run out."
McNally said his officials "did exactly what they were supposed to do on the Redskins, final three plays of the game."If the defense is stalling, the procedure is to first warn them, and then stop the clock. They (the officials) id that all three times. You give the defense what is called reasonable opportunity to assemble. If they stall, the clock is stopped, and that's exactly what happened."
McNally also indicated the clock was started exactly as it was supposed to be in thefinal two seconds. "When the defense is back," he said, "the umpire steps away from the ball, and the referee gives the signal to wind (start) the clock. The Redskins never got the call off on time, there's no question about it."
Even Allen had to admit yesterday that Theismann erred by not standing over center Len Hauss as soon as the clock was stopped at two seconds. Instead, Theismann was barking out instructions and motioning to his team mates.
"It would have been better if he had been right up there over Lenny Hauss ready to get the snap," Allen said. "It would have been to our advantage if Joe was there and not concerned about the other players."
Allen also admitted that Theismann's decision to call a running play on first down in that last series "probably wasn't a very good call." The Redskins were at their 26 with 1:14 left and no timeouts. Mike Thomas gained three yards on the play, and 15 precious seconds were wasted.
"He just thought he could get a big gain on it, "Allen said. "It backfired, but we also could have picked up 20 yards. With no time-outs, you don't want to take a chance running the draw. Normally in that situation, you're better off in the air. It took away from having two plays at the end."
Was that play selection strictly the quarterback's decision Allen was asked.
"Yes," he said, emphatically.
Allen insisted he did not plan any lineup changes this week, including at quarterback, barring injuries. "I don't think we're playing that poorly," he insisted. "And we don't really have the players to make the changes."
Allen was asked if he considered switching to Billy Kilmer late in the game. "No Billy wasn't warm and Joe was on the verge of making a big play," Allen said. "To put Billy in under those circumstances wasn't the thing to do.
"I thought Joe did a good job. I thought the field was a disadvantage to him. Everyone thinks the elements (rain and a slopped field) were in favor of the Redskins, but not when you have a quarterback who can move around out there."
Allen also complained about a flag that was never thrown on what he described as a flagrant pass-interference violation by Colt safety Bruce Laird on receiver Frank Grant late in the fourth quarter.
McNally said that was strictly a judgment call.
"Looking at the films, there's no question it looks like pass interference," Allen said. "But I don't want to take anything away from the Colts . . . The Colts have a fine team and now they're in the driver's seat to win their division."
The Redskins, now 44, are in the back seat, trailing the 5-3 Cardinals by one game in the rate for the NFC's wild-card berth. Atlanta and Detroit also are 44, and all four teams have tough games remaining.
The Redskins have to play the Cardinals, Cowboys and Rams, as well as Philadelphia Sunday, Green Bay the following Monday night the next week and Buffalo.
St. Louis plays in Dallas Monday night, followed by the Eagles, Dolphins, Giants, Redskins and Tampa Bay. Detroit plays at Atlanta Sunday followed by Tampa Bay, Chicago, Green Bay, Baltimore and Minnesota.
And the Falcons close against the Lions, Saints, Bukaneers, Patroits, Rams and Saints.
"The odds are against us," Allen said. "There's no question this has been the most difficult year we've had since we've been coaching. But it can still be our most challenging and rewarding year.
"I know we have a good football team. We're certainly not going to give up and fold because we still have a chance."
Allen said he hoped Chris Hanburger would be available this week, but admitted it will be difficult to pull Mike Curtis out of the lineup.
John Riggins will be in a cast for another week, although Allen said he was making good progress recovering from his torn knee ligament and may be able to rejoin the team later . . . Allen said a mixup on a defensive audible allowed the Colts to score their only touchdown, a 12-yard pass from Jones to Freddie Scott. Gerard Williams was beaten on the play because, Allen said. "He thought he had help inside, but he didn't."