By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) NFL officials are supposed to have a full and complete understanding of the rulebook.
But having a firm grip on logic may be even more important.
It is assumed that by learning the rules and taking numerous tests to demonstrate their knowledge, that NFL officials will not do any harm to the game of football.
That was not the case Sunday night when referee Jeff Triplette and his crew cost the Redskins in a way that has never been done before.
Washington was trailing the Giants by seven points in the final moments and were trying to mount a late drive that could have sent the game to overtime. On a second-and-five play, Robert Griffin III hit wide receiver Pierre Garcon with a short pass that appeared to give the Redskins a first down at the Washington 45-yard line.
A look at the replay showed that Davis appeared to go past the first-down marker, but was driven backwards by Giants tacklers.
As a result, the ball was marked either just short of the line to gain or right on it. However, the chains moved and the down indicator said first down.
The chains didn’t move on their own. They moved at the direction of head linesman Phil McKinnely, who was an integral part of Triplette’s crew.
At the same time, Triplette and at least one other official held up three fingers, indicating third down. On the next play, the ball was snapped back to RGIII, and he threw a pass downfield to tight end Fred Davis. While the pass hit Davis in the hands, it bounced out and the Redskins had a fourth-and-one play to negotiate.
However, nobody knew it. The Redskins and the Giants thought that the pass to Davis was a first-down play. Triplette’s decision to keep the game moving was a grievous decision. He needed to clarify the situation and let both teams know the correct down.
In failing to do so, Triplette explained his decision by saying that calling timeout would have given an unfair advantage to the Redskins because it would have given them more time to discuss the upcoming play.
How many times do officials stop to have a conference after penalty flags are thrown and other decisions that impact the game are made? At least five-to-10 times every game. Suddenly, this conference to clarify the down and distance would have given the trailing team an unfair advantage. Ridiculous.
Triplette’s logic is so poor that he damaged the Redskins and put the NFL’s credibility at risk. Once again.
That Sunday night error comes on the heels of the Week 11 Monday night fiasco between the Patriots and Panthers when a flag was thrown on the final play of the game for pass interference against Carolina on New England tight end Rob Gronkowski. The flag was picked up by referee Bill Leavy without explanation, and the Panthers had a victory.
The NFL said the officials were wrong in both cases, because explanations needed to be given. But Sunday night, Washington head coach Mike Shanahan was ignored. He was asking for a measurement after the Garcon reception, and he was told that it wasn’t needed because the first down had been awarded.
Triplette knew there was a question about the down after Garcon’s reception. He was able to see the down marker. He should have blown his whistle at that moment to clarify the situation.
At that point, he would have heard Shanahan’s request for a measurement.
The Redskins would have had their first down and they would have been able to continue their attempt to march down the field and tie the game.
Based on their record this year, the Redskins’ drive probably would not have been successful.
But that’s not the point. Triplette’s poor decision-making was regrettable and without logic. It’s not just a bad call. It’s an indictment against the officials that they are doing harm to the participants – and the game itself.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.