Penalty for C.J. Gardner-Johnson helmet toss wouldn’t have extended last night’s game

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Last night’s game ended with 4:17 to play in overtime after the Chargers failed to convert a fourth and seven, following the Saints’ first-drive field goal. But should the game really have been over?

After the whistle blew with Chargers receiver Mike Williams tackled short of the line to gain, Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson removed his helmet and threw it.

The rules provide that unsportsmanlike conduct occurs in the event of “[r]emoval of his helmet by a player in the field of play or the end zone during a celebration or demonstration, or during a confrontation with a game official or any other player.”

Gardner-Johnson clearly was celebrating the outcome of the play. So why wasn’t there a flag?

According to the NFL, no foul was called because the game had ended.

It’s one thing for that to happen when the clock has struck zero in the fourth quarter. It’s another thing for that to occur when time remains on the clock, and when the game has ended simply because the team that kicked off to start the extra session failed to match or beat the first-drive field goal.

What if, for example, Williams had gotten close enough to justify a measurement? What if there had been a replay review? The game technically wouldn’t have been over until the measurement or replay review had been resolved. So would the Chargers have gotten 15 yards of field position and a fresh set of downs if the officials had decided that the time hadn’t come for everyone to walk off the field and head to the locker rooms?

Actually, they wouldn’t have gotten a fresh set of downs. As explained to PFT by Dean Blandino of FOX, the game still would have ended, because the penalty would have been enforced after the play had concluded and, in turn, after possession had flipped to the Saints.

So in this case, whether the league regarded the game as over or whether the flag had been thrown, the Chargers wouldn’t have retained possession of the ball, and thus overtime would have concluded with New Orleans the victors.