In the final seconds of the first half today, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes drew an unusual penalty: Intentional grounding, for spiking the ball when the clock wasn’t running. But while it was unusual, it was correct.
Mahomes, perhaps not realizing that the clock was stopped, got the Chiefs to the line of scrimmage, took the snap and spiked it. The referee immediately threw a flag and explained that it’s intentional grounding to spike the ball when the clock is already stopped.
That was confusing in part because the NFL’s own rule book defines intentional grounding as throwing the ball away when “facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense.” Mahomes wasn’t facing an imminent loss of yardage and wasn’t under pressure from the defense, so how could it be intentional grounding?
Because there’s a separate section of the rules that covers spikes, and that section says, “A QB can only spike the ball to stop a running game clock.”
So while it’s easy to see why there was confusion, the officials did get it right.
This issue has actually come up before, two years ago, when the Bills spiked the ball just before halftime of a Monday night game against the Seahawks, even though the clock wasn’t running. In that case, the officials did not flag the Bills for intentional grounding. That was an officiating error. This time, the officials got it right.