NFL officials have blown bigger plays than the delay-of-game penalty that wasn’t Sunday.
Heck, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was on the wrong end of one such call three years ago, when Nickell Robey-Coleman — now a cornerback on the Lions practice squad -— got away with an obvious defensive pass interference penalty against Campbell’s New Orleans Saints at a crucial moment in the NFC championship game.
So Campbell knows what comes next — an apologetic phone call from the league office.
One play before Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker made an NFL-record 66-yard field goal to hand the Lions a heartbreaking 19-17 loss at Ford Field, officials appeared to miss a delay-of-game penalty that likely would have forced the Ravens into a Hail Mary situation.
On second-and-10 from the Detroit 48 with 7 seconds to play, Lamar Jackson threw incomplete after taking a snap that seemed to come after the play clock expired.
Tucker jogged onto the field for the next play and lined his field goal off the crossbar and through the uprights.
Had a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty been enforced, the Ravens would have had to attempt a 71-yard field goal or have Jackson heave a pass to the end zone from beyond midfield.
“There’s nothing I can say to that, because it’s the same thing,” Campbell said. “Tomorrow you’ll get an apology and it doesn’t mean anything. That’s life and that’s the hand we were dealt. We still had an opportunity to — that was fourth-and-long (a few plays earlier), a long way to go, and we gave it up.”
While officials typically allow a brief grace period once the play clock hits zero — the time it takes to look from the play clock to the center to make sure the ball is being snapped — replays showed the Ravens snapped the ball about 1.8 seconds after the play clock on the CBS broadcast expired.
Referee Scott Novak said in a pool report he had not reviewed the play to determine whether a penalty should have been called but said back judge Terrence Miles handled the mechanics of the play correctly.
“As far as our mechanics, the back judge is looking at the play clock and if it were to hit zero, he sees the zero, and he then looks to see if the ball is being snapped,” Novak said. “If the ball is being snapped, we will let the play go. If it’s not moving, it’s delay of game. Those are the mechanics that we apply on that play.”
Novak also said Jackson’s throw-away — the Ravens were looking for a quick sideline pass to pick up a few yards and shorten the field, and with nothing available, Jackson threw quickly out of bounds — did not constitute intentional grounding.
“Two aspects for intentional grounding,” Novak said. “One, the quarterback has to be under pressure. And then two, when he throws the ball over to a sideline or whatever it is, as long as he has a receiver on his team somewhere between the sideline and the numbers, which we did in that case, then that also takes it off. But no pressure, no grounding for the quarterback. And then with the receiver over there, there’s nothing as well.”
The Lions erased a 13-0 third quarter deficit to take a 17-16 lead with 1:04 to play, but made several of their own mistakes or questionable decisions down the stretch.
On their final drive, the Lions ran three times after getting a first-and-10 at the Baltimore 14, content to settle for a field goal and force the Ravens to use their final two timeouts, rather than play for a touchdown or first down that would have left less time on the clock.
Baltimore also converted a fourth-and-19 on its final possession, when the Lions rushed three defenders and kept a fourth near the line of scrimmage spying on Jackson.
Campbell defended rushing three players after the game, even though the Lions sacked Jackson on two of their three previous plays.
“The call I thought was fine, it was just the way we played the call,” he said. “Communication errors.”
Lions quarterback Jared Goff said he was comfortable with the Lions’ approach on their final drive, too.
“We were running our best runs,” he said. “We wanted them to use their timeouts and get them in a situation like we had them in late. Obviously in hindsight, yeah, of course (we could have done things different). But we did what we wanted to do. Make them use their timeouts, kick the field goal and take the lead.”
As for the missed penalty, Goff echoed his coach in saying there were other reasons for the Lions loss.
“They’ll say ‘sorry’ tomorrow,” Goff said. “Yeah. That’s OK. Again, like I said, every game, what if it was the other way? Every game, there’s probably 20 of them that could go either way and you can’t harp on those, you can’t think about those, you’ve just got to execute every play as best you can and we came up short and hats off to them for making the throw and making the kick.”