By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For the second time this season, an NFL team has been penalized through no fault of its own. This time, the Oakland Raiders were able to overcome the issue. In Week 3, the Detroit Lions weren’t. They never got a chance.
For the uninitiated, the issue at hand is the automatic 10-second runoff, which is enforced if a replay review shows that a ball carrier was actually down in the field of play instead of down in the end zone or out of bounds. The idea of the enforcement is straightforward: the clock stopped when it shouldn’t have stopped, and so after a replay review, some measure needs to be taken to account for the fact that the clock should have kept running.
It’s a sensible idea, but when employed twice this season it’s felt like something designed to ruin football.
The issue on Thursday night came when Jared Cook made a catch while falling across the goal line with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Replay showed that his rear end hit the turf when the ball was inside the 1-yard line but not yet across the goal line. Ergo, the Raiders would get the ball at that spot and not get the touchdown, which was initially ruled on the field.
Three penalties and a touchdown pass later, the Raiders were able to score that touchdown to win the game. The 10-second penalty for an official making the wrong call still felt severe.
For the Lions, it was much worse. Trailing the Falcons by four points and facing a third-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Matthew Stafford delivered a strike to Golden Tate at the goal line with 10 seconds left on the clock for what looked like the game-winning touchdown. It was ruled a touchdown on the field. But after review, Tate was down with the ball a few inches shy of the goal line.
So not only was the touchdown taken off the board, but so were the final 8 seconds left in the game. Just like that, replay review gave the Falcons a victory and the Lions a loss.
That’s too much.
In the case of the Lions, there is no doubt the offense could have hurried to the line and got off another snap in eight seconds. They were already on the 1-yard line, to getting back to the line of scrimmage and running a play in eight seconds is beyond plausible.
For the Raiders — or anyone else in a similar situation — it might have taken 10 seconds to get to the line some 30 yards up the field to run a play. But also, there’s a chance they could do it quicker.
In Week 2 of this season, we saw the Patriots bring their entire field goal unit on to the field and get off a snap in just 13 seconds before halftime, following a tackle in the middle of the field — a situation where six players needed to come in from the sideline.
With no substitutions needed, a high-functioning offense should be able to get to the line 30 yards up the field and snap the ball in less than 10 seconds.
Plus, there’s also this: If a call on the field was too close for the official on the field to get right, then it’s a safe bet that the replay booth would signal down to the field that the play needs a closer look. Considering the urgency there (the officials must call for the review before the next offensive snap), we’re talking about a stoppage that would likely come within 10 seconds.
Take the Raiders’ case, for example. Let’s say side judge Jeff Lamberth has his eagle eyes out and calls Cook down a foot shy of the goal line. The Raiders rush toward the goal line to get in position to spike the ball. But the replay official believes Cook might have scored, so he buzzes down to referee Craig Wrolstad to say it needs another look.
In that instance, the correct call was made on the field, and yet the officials still stop the clock for the offense. In that instance, the 10-second runoff does not apply, because the call on the field was not changed. In the meanwhile, the offense would have been given the free timeout which the 10-second runoff is supposed to counteract.
(Another issue I have with Thursday’s events is the fact that Cook did not fully possess the football until after he had crossed the goal line. Yes, his butt touched the grown, but never in a million years would his grasp on the football constitute possession. He never fully secured the football until after he had crossed the goal line. I know I’ve seen an exact replica of the Cook catch ruled a touchdown for that very reason, though the exact receiver involved currently escapes me. In any event, I do think Lamberth made the right call to begin with, though the replay office disagrees.)
So, in reality, that 10-second runoff isn’t counteracting anything. If Tate had been ruled down three inches shy of the goal line, it would have been reviewed to see if it was a score. Same thing with Cook. That’s the biggest issue.
Again, it’s an idea that makes perfect sense in theory. But when applied, it causes problems and doesn’t account for all scenarios. It ultimately leads to an issue that many NFL fans complain plagues the league: officiating simply plays too large a role in a sport where everyone pays to see the athletes make plays. Nothing ruins a good prime-time matchup like a meteor shower of yellow flags.
In this case, the Raiders were able to overcome it, but the Lions never had their chance. Would they have scored on that chaotic play from the 1-foot line? It’s impossible to say. But everyone wanted to see it. Nobody got the chance.
It needs fixing. Maybe the runoff can be shortened to five seconds, with a running clock as soon as the ball is set. That’s at least a more realistic simulation of what might have happened without a wrong call being made on the field, and it’s a much less severe punishment for an offense that didn’t do anything wrong.
Maybe that’s still not a perfect solution, but the competition committee ought to look at that rule.
And if any teams really want it changed, they’d be wise to ensure to let the Patriots win a game as the beneficiary of the 10-second runoff. An uptick in attention and outrage always follows when the Patriots are involved.