The decision not to penalize the Bills for intentional grounding for the spike aimed not at stopping the clock but consuming a snap perhaps has become more curious, given a separate, obscure area of the rule book.
By way of background, a source with knowledge of the situation explained on Wednesday morning to PFT that the Buffalo spike was permitted due to the extenuating circumstances arising from the sequence of events — even though the letter of the rule strongly suggests that the spike can be used only to stop a running game clock. For Buffalo, the clock was stopped when the play began.
A source with a team not connected to the Bills-Seahawks game, intrigued by the ruling, did a little more digging. The NFL’s Official Casebook contains a variety of “Approved Rulings” that demonstrate the application of the rules. And here’s the content of A.R. 8.87: “The game clock is stopped with six seconds left in the first half. [The quarterback] takes the snap and immediately spikes the ball into the ground to take one second off the clock so that a field-goal attempt will run out the clock.”
The approved ruling? “Half over. Intentional grounding and a 10-second runoff. A QB can only spike the ball to stop a running game clock. An attempt to take time off the clock is intentional grounding.”
While not a clear apples-to-apples comparison, since the Bills didn’t spike the ball to consume time but to consume a snap so that kicker Dan Carpenter could return to the game, the language is unmistakable: “A QB can only spike the ball to stop a running game clock.”
For the Bills, the game clock wasn’t running. It appears, then, that the officials made a third error in one of the most bizarre sequences in recent memory.
So what could the Bills have done in this situation? They should have lined up in shotgun formation, the quarterback should have sprinted to the edge of the tackle box, and then he should have fired the ball out of bounds beyond the line of scrimmage.
Sure, they had only three seconds to pull it off. But that would have been a permitted maneuver. What they tried to do shouldn’t have been.
Should the officials be blamed for that? Maybe, but perhaps only if they were full-time employees who had the ability to spend their time on Monday through Friday not practicing law or selling janitorial supplies or officiating college basketball games but, you know, reading the rulebook.