One of the most curious sequences in a very curious game yesterday between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens came at the end of the first half, with the hometeam Steelers protecting a 12-7 lead and trying to take it into the locker room with them.
Retaking possession with nearly four and a half minutes to play and two timeouts, the Ravens only narrowly avoided an early three and out thanks to an improbably Robert Griffin III scramble that he was able to turn into a 39-yard gain and flip the field.
That put them on the cusp of field goal range, and yet were trapped in another 3rd and long until Justice Hill found space for 19 yards to set up 1st and goal from the four. By then, there were 37 seconds left, and they had pocketed one timeout. They used it following a three-yard first-down run from Hill, believing that they would have time to run two plays with 26 seconds remaining.
While they did manage to get off two plays, including a run on 2nd and 1 on which they were obviously hoping to score, they only got off the second play with three seconds left. It very nearly went for a touchdown to practice tight veteran tight end Luke Willson—a career blocker—off of play action until Minkah Fitzpatrick stripped the ball loose as time expired.
The Ravens, and head coach John Harbaugh, were furious over the fact that the Steelers seemed to be taking their time getting up off the ground after making the 2nd-down tackle, arguing that it should have drawn a delay of game penalty.
“We knew we had enough time to run the two plays we wanted to run; the run, we hoped it would score. If it didn’t, we had a quick play pass that would be operated quick”, Harbaugh said after the game. “That would be a quick throw, so we’d have time for timeout if that was incomplete. I just feel like if you’re laying on the ground like that, you’re either injured, or it’s delay of game. So, that’s [a] pretty clear cut-type of a deal, and that’s how we felt about it”.
I’m going to be honest and say that, at worst, the Ravens have a case to make here. realistically, what constitutes a delay of game in this situation is subjective. There isn’t a set number of seconds one can lay on a pile before the rulebook instructs the officials to throw a flag, but certainly it’s reasonable to believe that a penalty could have been called.
Vince Williams in particular took his sweet time getting up off the ground, eventually being assisted by Terrell Edmunds. It takes a bit longer to get up off the ground once you hit 30, though, you know. Even if he was quite bouncy and swiftly got back into his spot after getting up to re-set for the next play.