clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Did the refs cost the Bills an extra play at the end of 'Monday Night Football'?

New, comments

The Bills went out of bounds with two seconds left. Normally, that stops the clock!

The Buffalo Bills needed one score to tie the New England Patriots. They might have gotten one less shot at it than they deserved.

Sammy Watkins caught a pass inbounds and fell backwards towards the sideline, going out of the field of play with two seconds left.

Most of the time, a player going out of bounds stops the clock. In fact, the clock operator actually did temporarily stop the clock, as you can see by the fact that it stops counting down. But the referee over the play eventually ran in windmilling his arm, restarting the clock and essentially ending the game. Why?

Apparently, the ref felt that Watkins had made forward progress in the field of play. Here's the rule on that:

The Forward Progress of a runner or airborne receiver is the point at which his advance toward his opponent's goal ends and is the spot at which the ball is declared dead by rule, irrespective of the runner or receiver being pushed or carried backward by an opponent.

Watkins' furthest point of progress towards the end zone was inbounds. Therefore, the referee ruled that spot as the place where the play was dead, and if the spot where the play was dead was inbounds, then the clock continues running.

Imagine for a second the critical issue wasn't the waning clock, but a key first down. Imagine Watkins had the first down when he made the catch, but his backwards fall brought him behind the line. It would seem like a first down due to forward progress, right? The same rule was applied here. Watkins was given the benefit of the doubt that he advanced further upfield than where he went out. Unfortunately, in this scenario, that hurt the Bills.

However, several refereeing experts disagreed with the on-field ruling, arguing that the fact that Watkins wasn't touched on his way out made a difference.

These refereeing experts apparently felt that since Watkins was going out of bounds of his own accord to stop the clock rather than being driven out, the forward progress ruling shouldn't matter. To them, Watkins' act of going out of bounds was a separate "advance" than the one that ended in the field of play.

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino didn't make a statement either way. He said he thought the clock should've been stopped from his vantage point, but that he trusted the referee directly on top of the play making the call at his discretion.

There are two things we know for sure about this play. One is that it's odd it wasn't reviewed. This was a call that may have ended a game prematurely. That's the type of thing you want to look at twice, just to make sure.

The other is that, um, well, um, it's probably academic. The Bills needed a Hail Mary or hook-and-ladder against one of the NFL's best teams to win, and, well, that's unlikely. But you never know.

* * *

SB Nation presents: The NFL's annoying catch rules struck again on Sunday