The entire game didn’t reach the level of chaos seen in the Washington Redskins’ loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 2, but for a second consecutive week the Redskins had trouble with the replacement officials and committed another late-game unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Down 38-31, the Redskins needed to go 98 yards with 1:47 left and no timeouts. Robert Griffin III marched his team to the Cincinnati 19-yard line in five plays, one of which featured a 15-yard personal foul on the Bengals to further aid Washington’s efforts.
But on first and 10 from the Cincinnati 19 and 29 seconds left, Griffin was sacked for a 15-yard loss, and then on the next play spiked the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds remaining. On third and 25, tight end Fred Davis was called for a false start, and the referee announced that as penalty, there would be a 10-second runoff and that the game had ended.
The bulk of the Bengals players and coaches came onto the field, while Redskins coaches argued that the clock had stopped prior to the penalty, so there was no 10-second runoff.
Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan came onto the field and argued vehemently with one of the replacement officials. Shanahan turned back to the sideline and the official threw his flag in that direction. (It was the second straight game that saw the Redskins flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Last week it was wide receiver Josh Morgan, who threw the ball at cornerback Cortland Finnegan and drew a 15-yard penalty during the game’s final two minutes.)
The head official announced that there was no 10-second runoff, but that the five-yard false start penalty, plus a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty would be enforced.
However, the ball went from the Cincinnati 34-yard line to the Washington 41 – five yards further upfield than it should have been placed.
On the final play, Griffin heaved a Hail Mary pass downfield, but it was deflected and the game ended.
The Redskins declined to make Kyle Shanahan available to reporters following the game.
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan did discuss the game-ending chaos, but it wasn’t clear what the coordinator said to draw the penalty. Shanahan, meanwhile, contended the Bengals should have been called for a penalty for coming on the field before the game was over, but did say that some of the confused officials had signaled an end to the game.
“They threw the flag on us,” Shanahan said. “They called it unsportsmanlike conduct. At the end of the game, there were two officials on the sidelines who said the game was over, and you saw most of their coaches and players on the field. They thought there was a 10-second runoff. Two of the officials said the game was over on our sideline – or one of them. I heard one. I shouldn’t say two. Supposedly, the other person said the game had expired. Obviously, when you kill the clock, which we did before that, it’s a five-yard penalty, and there’s no loss of 10 seconds. They threw the flag at us and there was half of the football team on the field. I was disappointed with that.”
There were two other crucial calls made by the officials in the game, but both those calls appeared to be right.
The first came early in the fourth quarter, when a Sav Rocca punt appeared to touch down inside the red zone, but just shy of the goal line. Cornerback Crezdon Butler leaped into the air and tossed the ball back to linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who tried to keep the ball from going into the end zone. But officials signaled a touchback, saying the ball hit the goal line.
The Redskins, who had burned two timeouts in the third quarter, challenged the call. Though shortly after Shanahan challenged the play, an image on the video screens showed a tip of the ball on the goal line. The play call stood, and Washington lost its final timeout.
“I probably saw what everybody else saw,” Shanahan said. “When we went back and they showed it a little bit later on, I couldn’t tell that the ball did hit the line. It looked, from my perspective looking at the screen, that it did not hit the line. I thought it was worth a challenge. Then obviously, when we went back – I don’t know if it was in HD – but you could clearly see that it was on the line. I thought it was worth the challenge at the time.”
The second call came later in the fourth quarter, when after pulling within 38-31, Washington attempted an onside kick. Tight end Niles Paul jumped to corral the ball, but ended up knocking it backward where Alexander recovered it. But officials called Paul for illegal touching because the ball hadn’t yet traveled the mandatory 10 yards before he touched it.
The Redskins couldn’t have challenged the call if they wanted to, since no timeouts remained, but replays did show Paul touching the ball about a foot shy of the 45-yard line.