Washington was given a big break in its comeback win over Pittsburgh by the officials wrongly stopping the clock to before Washington kicked a field goal at the end of the first half.
With just seconds remaining in the second quarter and Washington out of timeouts, quarterback Alex Smith was tackled inbounds, and Washington’s field goal team raced onto the field with the clock running. But as the field goal team ran onto the field, Smith ran off — while still carrying the ball.
That meant the officials didn’t have a ball to spot for the next play. Usually, the NFL uses separate “K-balls” for kicking plays, but when a team is hurrying its field goal team onto the field, the officials don’t use the K-ball and instead just use the ball that was used on the previous offensive play. At least, they do when the quarterback doesn’t take the ball with him to the sideline.
But because Smith took the ball with him to the sideline, the officials had to signal to the sideline crew to bring out a K-ball. And when that didn’t happen immediately, the officials stopped the clock with eight seconds left. That gave Washington extra time to get its field goal team on the field, and Washington kicked a field goal before halftime.
Stopping the clock to benefit Washington was a mistake. As noted by former NFL referee and NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay, when the offense’s actions cause a delay in getting the ball spotted, the officials are not supposed to stop the clock. In this case, it was clear that Smith’s action of taking the ball with him to the sideline caused the delay, and so the officials should have let the clock run while they got a K-ball to spot for the field goal attempt. The umpire, who signaled to the clock operator to stop the clock, should not have done that.
Smith said after the game, “It was not intentional.” But intentional or not, Smith’s move gave the Football Team an advantage it shouldn’t have had, and was a key contributor to Washington’s comeback win.