Let’s Talk About This “Clock Error” Business

As usual, no win or loss in the NFL comes without a controversy. With paper thin margins, subjective calls, and plenty of places to make mistakes, half the teams each week are never satisfied that the final result should have happened. That was the case this Sunday when the Lions edged the Rams in the final minute. Shortly after the game ended, it was reported that the Rams were on the wrong end of a clock error.

By now you probably know the details. On 2nd down, with 2:45 left in the game, the Rams ran a play, a Sam Bradford bootleg where he slid very near the sideline. It was ruled that he slid in bounds (i.e. the clock kept ticking) and the play was blown dead at 2:38 (game tape actually shows it should have been dead at 2:40, but that doesn’t really make a difference). As soon as it becomes a dead ball on that play, the play clock should start up for the next play (with 40 seconds on the clock). Do some easy math and you’ll be able to figure out that the Rams should have been able to let the clock run until the 2 minute warning and then run another play on 3rd down (again running off 40 seconds or forcing the Lions to use their final timeout). Instead, the game clock was mistakenly stopped for a few seconds after Bradford’s scramble before resuming again. Because of the delay, by the time the play clock ran out, the game clock still read 2:03. The Rams were then only able to get to the 2 minute warning with their 3rd down play (saving the Lions a timeout or 40 seconds)¬†.

Just as Lions fans would, Rams fans have been up in arms about this travesty. The NFL even admitted to the clock mistake. Yes, the notoriously stubborn league office even admitted to it. Here’s why they should all shut up.

First, let’s start with the slide rule. It’s generally considered a pretty confusing rule. I mean, the guy is still moving, still going forward, but can’t be hit by a defender. It’s pretty stupid. Here’s what it says in Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1 of the NFL Rulebook:

Article 1: Dead Ball Declared. An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended:

(d) when a runner declares himself down by sliding feet first on the ground. The ball is dead the instant
the runner touches the ground with anything other than his hands or his feet; or

(e) when a runner is out of bounds, or declares himself down by falling to the ground, or kneeling, and
making no effort to advance; or

The rulebook also includes notes on when a defender may or may not hit the runner:

Note: Defenders are required to treat a sliding runner as they would a runner who is down by contact.
(1) A defender must pull up when a runner begins a feet-first slide. This does not mean that all contact by
a defender is illegal. If a defender has already committed himself, and the contact is unavoidable, it is
not a foul unless the defender commits some other act, such as helmet-to-helmet contact or by
driving his forearm or shoulder into the head or neck area of the runner.
(2) A runner who desires to take advantage of this protection is responsible for starting his slide before
contact by a defensive player is imminent; if he does not, and waits until the last moment to begin his
slide, he puts himself in jeopardy of being contacted.

This is the part that usually confuses people. The ball is not declared dead when the runner begins the slide. That simply dictates the moment that a defender is no longer allowed to hit him. As the rule says, the ball is only dead when either he steps out of bounds or a part of his body other than his feet or hands contacts the ground. This is where I found issue with the play. Here’s out first angle of the slide:

This angle shows that the first part of his body to touch the ground (other than his feet) was his right knee. So this is the moment the ball should be ruled dead, according to the slide rule. Still, we can’t tell much from this angle, so I’ll go to the coaches film view of things.

Here I’ve drawn a straight yellow line to indicate the boundary right up to where his knee is, since the defender partially obscures it. Clearly, at the moment his knee touches the ground (i.e. the slide is complete), it touches the ground out of bounds. Therefore, he didn’t actually complete his slide in bounds. Rather, he came down out of bounds, which should have stopped the clock at 2:40.¬†Presumably, the Rams would then have run the ball on 3rd down to take the clock down to 2:00 and the game situation would not have changed for the Lions. They could have also chosen to throw the ball, as they did with 2:03 on the clock, which would leave the Lions with even more time to complete their game winning drive.

So while Rams fans are trying to use this official’s mistake to discredit the Lions victory, Lions fans should be secure in knowing that there was an offsetting official’s mistake on the play.

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