The NFL’s officiating director said Monday that the officials should have stopped the game during the final minutes of the Washington Redskins’ 24-17 loss Sunday night to the New York Giants to clear up confusion over what down it was during the Redskins’ last drive of the game.
“In this situation where there is obvious confusion as to the status of the down, play should have been stopped prior to third down and the correct down communicated to both clubs,” Dean Blandino, the league’s vice president of officiating, said in a written statement released by the NFL. “This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes.”
Blandino said the “ball was correctly spotted” by the officials and referee Jeff Triplette correctly “signaled third down” but the head linesman “incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains, which caused the down boxes to read first down.
“Following a Washington incomplete pass, the chains were moved back and the down boxes correctly reset to fourth down,” Blandino said.
Blandino said that “only the referee can rule and signal a first down,” and added: “The official nearest to the down markers and chain crew, the head linesman, must wait for the first down signal from the referee before moving the chains.
“Instant Replay did not become involved in this situation because the replay official determined that the ball on [Redskins wide receiver Pierre] Garcon’s catch was correctly spotted short of the line to gain for a first down.”
The confusion arose in the game’s final two minutes as the Redskins, in pursuit of a tying touchdown, drove close to midfield. On a second-down completion from quarterback Robert Griffin III to Garcon, the ball was spotted just shy of a first down by the officials. That set up a third-and-one situation.
But the Redskins believed they’d gotten a first down. Coach Mike Shanahan said after the game he’d been told by an official that it was a first down, and at least one set of sideline chains was moved as if it indeed was a first down.
Tight end Fred Davis dropped a third-down pass from Griffin for what would have been a significant gain into Giants’ territory. The Redskins, realizing it was fourth down, got a completion from Griffin to Garcon for what would have been a first down just across midfield. But Garcon lost a fumble when the ball was taken from his hands by Giants safety Will Hill. The Giants gained possession with a little more than a minute to play and ran out the clock with two kneel-downs by quarterback Eli Manning.
At his postgame news conference, Shanahan said: “I told him I wanted a measurement because I knew it was close. It was inches. And he said, ‘No, it’s a first down.’ And he moved the chains. And then after I saw it was fourth down, I asked him, ‘You already told me it was first down.’ … So it was quite disappointing.”
Shanahan said the confusion “did affect our play-calling.”
Griffin said after the game: “All I know is we had the pass to Fred. We thought that was first down. … The chains said first down. When we came back, we thought it’s second and 10 and they’re yelling out, ‘It’s fourth down.’ No explanation. No measurement, didn’t stop the clock to allow the chains to move back. We just had to go ahead and call the play and then go for it on fourth down. That’s all I know.”
Triplette told a pool reporter after the game: “We signaled third down on the field. The stakes were moved incorrectly.”
Triplette told the pool reporter that the officials didn’t halt the game to sort out the confusion “because that would have given an unfair advantage,” apparently to the Redskins, in his view, by stopping the clock. Triplette said he couldn’t respond to Shanahan’s contention he’d been told by an official it was a first down because he was unaware of that situation.
“I feel like we signaled third down,” Triplette said, according to the pool report. “The stakes just got moved incorrectly.”
The defeat extended the Redskins’ losing streak to four games, dropped their record to 3-9 and officially eliminated them from playoff contention in the NFC. It dropped Shanahan’s record with the team over four seasons to 24-36 as speculation intensifies that he won’t be retained by owner Daniel Snyder after this season.
But the Redskins also had plenty of their own mistakes to ponder in the aftermath of their latest loss. They squandered a 14-0 first-half lead and wasted a sharp performance by Griffin, who completed his first 12 passes and 16 of 17 first-half throws. They dropped a series of passes, including several on the final drive.
Long snapper Kyle Nelson rolled a snap to punter Sav Rocca, resulting in a deflected punt that set up the Giants’ go-ahead touchdown. Wide receiver Santana Moss and cornerback DeAngelo Hall received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and Garcon was given a delay of game penalty for kicking the football while it was on the turf after an incompletion.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesdays.
● Mike Shanahan meets with reporters at 3 p.m.
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