NFL says clock started early on Packers final play vs. Steelers

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The league allegedly released a statement late Friday indicating an official's communication error led to the game clock starting prematurely on the Packers final play against Pittsburgh in Week 16.

The NFL reportedly released a statement regarding an official's error at the end of the Steelers' 38-31 win over Green Bay in Week 16.

While that statement appears to only have been issued to Packers-based media (or at least they were the only ones to run it), the Green Bay Gazette was the first to publish it:

"Due to a miscommunication between members of the officiating crew, the game clock was started prematurely on the final play of the game."

ESPN reporter Rob Demovsky implies he received the same memo from the league, but doesn't clearly state he received it. Neither outlet cited a specific source - the Green Bay Gazette cited the NFL, while Demovsky cited "a spokesperson."

The alleged issue stems from the second-to-last play of the game, with the Packers having the ball with a chance to tie with 22 seconds remaining. Evan Dietrich-Smith was penalized for a false start, which, under two minutes in the second and fourth quarter, requires the offending team to burn a timeout, or allow a 10-second runoff. The Packers did not have a timeout.

After the ball is placed, the clock is to begin running again, per league rules.

After the runoff, there was approximately 10 seconds remaining in the game. By rule, the clock started, but the Packers did not snap the ball immediately. Packers coach Mike McCarthy contends this is where the issue arose.

Writes the Green Bay Gazette:

Following the game, the Packers took issue with Cheffers and his umpire Undrey Walsh failing to signal center Evan Dietrich-Smith to snap the ball until 7 seconds had run off the play clock.

This version is corroborated somewhat by quotes published by the Packers' web site.

...Referee Carl Cheffers announced the clock would re-start at 10 seconds on his ready signal, and the Packers were at the line ready to snap it, but the umpire in the middle of the line told Dietrich-Smith to hold off. "We were all up, all set, and he came up and told Evan to take his hand off the ball," left guard Josh Sitton said. "Then we all kind of got up, and then he wound the clock. I think we were ready, and I think that took a few more seconds than it should have."

The fact the Packers were set up doesn't speak to the time at which they were ready to go. It seems more befitting of the penalty if the Packers were told they can't line up during the 10 second runoff.

This was not a stoppage of play, it was a penalty. That seems to be missing in all the commentary about it. Nothing is more evident of that than the lede of the Packers site's story:

The final moments were as chaotic as it gets, so there was no time to settle things down and reassess.

At the risk of turning this into commentary, this was not a dead ball foul. There wasn't supposed to be "time to settle things down and reassess." The Packers did not get to use the situation as a timeout. The clock was supposed to keep running. And as someone who was at the game, sitting behind the end zone to which the Packers were approaching, I heard the whistle blow, indicating the play was live.  To my memory, that's when the clock began. I also heard several Packers fans around me yelling at quarterback Matt Flynn to get the play going.

There is a game clock behind the end zone, in the same place it is in 31 other NFL stadiums.

If it is the responsibility of the officials to notify centers and quarterbacks when the clock is running, that's news to me. What I know is the fans were certainly aware the clock was running. My opinion after the game was the Packers took their time on one play instead of rushing through the first play for the sake of getting a second one.

It appeared Flynn and the Packers expected the clock to remain stopped until they were set, as if they were coming out of a timeout. That's not the case; otherwise, teams would intentionally commit false start penalties in that exact situation. Suggesting otherwise is to say they should be given a free timeout at the price of five yards, which is way too advantageous for the offense at the goal line.

As Paper Champions highlighted, it was a great defensive play, and contrary to the opinion of many, Jordy Nelson was not open on the post until after Flynn had released the ball to Jarrett Boykin. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor made a great play on it, sealing the game for Pittsburgh.

The league's Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino, said earlier in the week the official's decision to place possession with Green Bay after a blocked field goal attempt earlier in the game "probably would have been overturned," but stressed possession on that particular play was not reviewable.

Blandino did not mention the clock gaffe earlier this week. The timing of this alleged memo is curious; just a few minutes before the league announced its Pro Bowl rosters, and seemingly to a very limited and select audience.

Not that this should be the end-all, be-all of discussion, but as of 7:18 a.m. ET Saturday, neither Pro Football Talk nor NFL.com Around The League mentioned anything about the alleged statement.

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