A sideline snafu that resulted in a first down suddenly changing to fourth down was admitted as a mistake by NFL's Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino on Monday. In a statement, Blandino said that a head linesman incorrectly motioned for a first down.
The full statement reads as follows (via Albert Breer of NFL.com):
"With 2:00 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, Washington faced a second-and-5 from its own 41-yard line with no timeouts remaining. Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed a pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon for four yards. The ball was correctly spotted shy of the Washington 46, bringing up third down."
"Referee Jeff Triplette signaled third down but the head linesman - with Washington in a 'hurry-up' situation - incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains, which caused the down boxes to read first down. Following a Washington incomplete pass, the chains were moved back and the down boxes correctly reset to fourth down."
"In this situation where there is obvious confusion as to the status of the down, play should have been stopped prior to third down and the correct down communicated to both clubs. This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes."
"Only the referee can rule and signal a first down. The official nearest to the down markers and chain crew, the head linesman, must wait for the first down signal from the referee before moving the chains. Instant Replay did not become involved in this situation because the replay official determined that the ball on Garcon's catch was correctly spotted short of the line to gain for a first down."
The mistake provided the Redskins with what they believed to be a first down; however, after an incomplete pass the Redskins were given a fourth down. A fumble by Pierre Garcon on the ensuing play was recovered by the New York Giants and proved to be a game-ending play.