The NFL is making some changes after Washington quarterback Alex Smith found an accidental loophole in the NFL rules.
According to Football Zebras, a website dedicated to providing analysis on NFL officials and rules, the league sent out a training video to officiating staffs regarding a play that occurred in Washington’s win over the Steelers.
At the end of the first half, Smith was sacked for a 7-yard loss. With time running out, and no timeouts remaining for Washington, Smith then ran off the field with the football in his hand. Umpire Roy Ellison couldn’t get a K-ball (kicking ball), and he couldn’t locate another football (since Smith ran off with it), so he called for an administrative delay.
Alex Smith runs off with the ball causing an “administrative issue” and stopping the clock to give Washington (+6.5) time to kick
— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) December 7, 2020
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This delay gave Washington plenty of time to get its field goal unit on the field and make a 49-yard field goal with one second remaining on the clock. Former NFL referee and NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay tweeted during the game that there should not have been a delay during the game.
The Umpire was asking for the ball at the end of the play. He then stopped the clock at :08 as he tried to get a new ball from the sideline. He should not have done that. WAS caused the delay and should not have benefited from it.
— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) December 8, 2020
Ellison was seeking a K-ball, a different football used specifically for kicking plays. With time running down, officials typically resort to using the football used in the previous offensive play. However, since Smith ran off with that football, Ellison called for the delay.
It’s a strange situation, and Ellison was unsure of the rules, so he simply called an administrative delay to sort things out. However, the league specified in its training video this week that officials should not stop the clock in that situation, per Football Zebras.
[Senior vice president of officiating development and training Walt Anderson] reiterated that the crew can spot the scrimmage ball from the previous down rather than the K-ball in a time-constrained running-clock situation. If the K-ball is available in time, then use it. He said a guideline should be 20 seconds on the game clock, upping it from the “approximately 10” seconds under existing procedures.
Football Zebra’s report added that if an administrative stoppage is needed, then officials should look to resume the game as quickly as possible and not hold “a conference and an announcement by the referee” as was done in that game.
For his part, Smith said the move “was not intentional” after the game. Even though it wasn’t intentional, it did play a big role in the game as Washington won, 23-17. If Washington didn’t score those three points, then the Steelers could have kicked a game-tying field goal late in the game rather than attempt a fourth-down conversion on Washington’s 28-yard line.
The slight tweak in the rule change (adding 10 extra seconds) should help prevent situations like this in the future. If this happens again, expect officials to simply let the game clock wind down until a K-ball is found.