Although it didn’t technically cost them the game, the fact that the Washington Football Team was able to get off a field goal at the end of the first half was a source of frustration for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a slight lift for a visiting team who up to that point had done virtually nothing of substance on offense.
With about 18 seconds remaining in the half, Washington quarterback Alex Smith was sacked on 3rd and 16 for a loss of seven yards, pushing them back to the Steelers’ 31-yard line. They had no timeouts, so the clock was running, and they would have to hurry to rush the field goal unit on.
Smith ran off the field with the ball, which the officials intended to use in order to set up the field goal attempt, almost surely unaware that this was their intention. Under ordinary circumstances, the officials insert a separately-prepared ‘K’ ball that is used for kick attempts.
The confusion prompted the officials to elect to pause the clock due to the administrative issue with eight seconds remaining once it became obvious that they would struggle to get a ball in play. They ultimately attempted the field goal as the play clock resumed with five seconds remaining in the half.
As might not surprise you, this was not the manner in which the situation was supposed to be handled. The most egregious mistake, however, was the fact that they did not resume the clock as early as possible, and according to Football Zebras, the head of officiating has amended and clarified the procedures for such late-half circumstances.
A weekly training video following the game reiterates that officials are to use the game ball rather than the K ball in late-half situations, and amended the guideline from 10 seconds remaining to 20 seconds. Sole discretion of administrative clock stoppage is left up to the official.
The video emphasizes, as mentioned earlier, that the clock must resume as quickly as possible. There should be no announcement about the stoppage that wastes time, and the clock should not be paused until the ball is set, but simply when the K ball is available if it is being put into the game.
Teams will be informed this week about the benchmark being changed from 10 seconds to 20 seconds to use the game ball rather than the K ball, though in this situation, it wouldn’t have made a difference, since Smith took the game ball off the field.
We all knew in the first place that the officials erred here, and the report of this training video is an indication of the league acknowledging that they made a mistake. It won’t change the past, and such instances will rarely happen again, but nevertheless, it is an oversight that is now being addressed.