The Broncos believe that the officials missed a delay of game penalty during the Chiefs’ game-winning drive on Monday night. And maybe they did. But the fact that the play clock made it to zero before the snap isn’t conclusive proof of that.
“The back judge is responsible for keeping track of the play clock,” NFL spokesman Michael Signora told PFT via email. “Officiating mechanics dictate that once the back judge sees the play clock expire, he then looks immediately to the ball. If it is being snapped, then there is no foul for delay of game.”
So even if the back judge is locked onto the play clock, the flag doesn’t come out simply because the play clock gets to zero. He still must then look to the center to see if the ball was snapped.
The ESPN broadcast had it lined up perfectly. The play clock was ticking down behind the Chiefs’ offense, and the snap came within that moment after the number reached zero but before the flag could have been thrown.
A super-slow-motion replay from ESPN suggested that maybe the flag should have been thrown. The real-time footage showed the snap within the window created by the mechanics for the foul, a window that necessarily adds another second or so to the process.
It’s a process that applies to every offense, on every team. And if the NFL wants to change it, the NFL should require the back judge to essentially hold the flag in air and insert whistle in mouth as the clock gets under five seconds. Better yet, whether the snap came before the play clock struck zero could be subject to replay review.
The NFL has yet to take it in that direction, which means that the mechanics as crafted by the league were applied as intended on Monday night.