Officials Erred by Stopping Clock Before Halftime: Former NFL Referee


Alex Smith sacked

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Alex Smith is sacked by Robert Spillane during the first quarter of the Washington-Pittsburgh game at Heinz Field on December 07, 2020.

On Monday the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to Washington 23-17, stopping the team’s undefeated start to the season at 11 games. A key play in last night’s contest came at the very end of the first half, when Washington kicked a 49-yard field goal before time expired—and reduced Pittsburgh’s lead to 14-3.

According to former NFL referee and NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay, game officials should not have stopped the clock, thereby allowing Washington enough time to try the field goal.

With seconds to go in the first half, Washington quarterback Alex Smith was tackled inbounds, forcing Washington’s field goal team to try to race onto the field before time expired.

Except Smith ran off the field carrying the game ball, so the officials didn’t have a ball handy for the next play.

As it turns out, the officials stopped the clock with eight seconds to go, which gave Washington time to get its field goal team onto the field and convert the kick.

According to the aforementioned McAulay, when the offense causes a delay in spotting the ball, said offense should not be allowed to benefit.

In other words, the officials should have let the clock run while getting a so-called “K-ball” from the sideline for the field goal attempt. (The NFL utilizes dedicated “K-balls” for kicking plays, except for hurry-up situations where there isn’t time).

After the game, Smith claimed that he didn’t run off the field with the ball on purpose. “It was not intentional,” he said. But intent is irrelevant in this situation, and the three points did make a difference in terms of the outcome.

Myles Garrett Reacts to Pittsburgh’s Defeat

Naturally, the Cleveland Browns—and their fans—were watching Washington-Pittsburgh with interest, as the Browns are in second-place in the AFC North with a 9-3 record.

After the game, Browns defender Myles Garrett took to Twitter to say “Steelers might have opened the door” to Cleveland catching the Steelers and winning the division title.

That’s true, but the door has only opened a little bit, as the Steelers still have a two-game lead with four games left, plus a head-to-head win over Cleveland and a 4-0 record within the division.

Of course, the teams are scheduled to play in Cleveland in the season finale. Before that the Steelers play at Buffalo (9-3), at Cincinnati (2-9-1) and at home vs. Indianapolis (8-4).

Prior to the season-finale, the Browns are at home versus Baltimore (6-5) and at both the New York Giants (5-7) and New York Jets (0-12).

Regardless, Cleveland seems well on its way to a playoff berth, which would be its first since 2002.

1972 Miami Dolphins React to Steelers Loss

Naturally, members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins also watched the Washington-Pittsburgh game with interest, as exemplified by former Dolphins running back Larry Csonka.

The ’72 Dolphins are still the only NFL team to go undefeated wire-to-wire (17-0), including a 21-17 win over the Steelers in the 1972 AFC Championship Game.

Of course, the 2007 New England Patriots navigated the regular season undefeated, but lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, thereby finishing 18-1.

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