You may have noticed during Sunday’s broadcast of the Detroit Lions’ game against the Green Bay Packers that quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested the limits of the game clock multiple times throughout the game. According to the FOX broadcast, it looked like the Packers had avoided a few situations in which they could have been called up for late play, with the clock on television expiring at zero before Green Bay picked up. But this sort of thing tends to happen on a weekly basis. No big deal, right?
Well, a Reddit user compiled all of these situations from Sunday’s game, and it turns out it didn’t happen once or twice. It happened a total of EIGHT (8!!!) times throughout Sunday’s contest. Check it out.
Now, before we all take up arms about a Packers conspiracy among officiating teams, there are a few caveats to this discovery.
For one thing, the TV broadcast clock isn’t always 100% in sync with the in-stadium game clock. That said, as someone who was at Sunday’s game, I can personally vouch that the game clock expired at least three times at the venue before Rodgers got the snap. Lions radio commentator TJ Lang also mentioned him several times during the show.
The other important aspect of this finding is that NFL officials have been trained to allow a little wiggle room here. Essentially, the back judge – located in the middle of the defensive side of the field – will be watching the game clock. When the game clock expires, they will turn their attention to the snap of the ball, and if in that half second of the back judge shifting their focus, the offense breaks the ball, they won’t be called for delay of play. You can see from a few of these instances – where Rodgers gets the shot just fractions of a second after the clock expires – why the referees did not throw the flag.
Former NFL official and current CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore explained the process here:
When the game clock is about to expire, there is usually a half-second or one-second delay for the referees to blow their whistle due to the mechanics of how the game is officiated. The delay in #NEvsGB exceeded the normal time you usually see for a flag to be thrown.
— Gene Steratore (@GeneSteratore) October 2, 2022
But it’s also worth noting that this “wiggle room” isn’t written into the rulebook. It simply indicates that when the game clock expires, it is a penalty. This is an entirely arbitrary duration that is 100% at the discretion of the referees.
Of course, this is not an unfamiliar issue for Leos. In their infamous loss to the Baltimore Ravens last year, Lamar Jackson failed to break the ball before the game clock expired on the penultimate game of the match. Officials did not announce a game delay and the Ravens would win the very next play on a 66-yard field goal.
After that game, Lions coach Dan Campbell spoke about his understanding of the timeout rule.
“I didn’t turn it into a league, but I called and it’s really a subjective call, that’s really what it is,” Campbell said. “So I think they’re kind of split on that. You heard the procedure and I’ll be honest with you, I’m so done now.
But that begs the question: why does it have to be subjective? The expiration of a clock is not subjective. It’s as black and white as they come, and there’s no wiggle room in any other sport when it comes to the clock (except football and their insane downtime). The clock expires when it expires, and it shouldn’t be hard to enforce that.
I know it didn’t change the outcome of the game, and it’s petty to complain about it after a win, but it’s a fully fixable issue. So do something already, NFL.
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