Referee Scott Novak explains the delay-of-game mechanics that applied in Ravens-Lions

USA TODAY Sports

Nearly thirteen years ago, a controversial non-call of delay of game happened in a Ravens win over the Titans in the playoffs. It happened again on Sunday, and it benefited the Ravens, again.

On the play preceding the game-winning, 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, the play clock expired before quarterback Lamar Jackson got the snap. No flag was thrown.

After the game, referee Scott Novak explained the failure to call a delay-of-game foul to pool reporter Justin Rogers.

“As far as our mechanics, the back judge is looking at the play clock and if it were to hit zero, he sees the zero, and he then looks to see if the ball is being snapped,” Novak said. “If the ball is being snapped, we will let the play go. If it’s not moving, it’s delay of game. Those are the mechanics that we apply on that play.”

Those mechanics build in a second or two — or, as the case may be, 1.6 seconds — after the clock strikes zero.

Novak added that there was no reason to believe the back judge wasn’t in position. And there really is no reason to believe that. It’s the exact same explanation referee Terry McAulay provided after the Ravens-Titans playoff game in early 2009.

The problem isn’t the back judge, it’s the process. The NFL should use a loud buzzer, like basketball does with a play clock. That would remove all uncertainty. If the ball isn’t snapped when the buzzer goes off, it’s delay of game.

It would be fair. It would be objective. And it would completely remove any suggestion that something untoward occurred. Which is what always happens when something like this goes down.

29 responses to “Referee Scott Novak explains the delay-of-game mechanics that applied in Ravens-Lions

  1. “The problem isn’t the back judge, it’s the process. The NFL should use a loud buzzer, like basketball does with a play clock. That would remove all uncertainty. If the ball isn’t snapped when the buzzer goes off, it’s delay of game.”

    THIS, all day long!

  2. It’s simple – the NFL doesn’t treat the play clock like a game clock, and this is what you open yourself up to. It should be 1000000% reviewable, like 12 men on the field.

    Imagine in basketball that the shot clock was treated in the same manner – the clock gets to zero, but the refs are gonna “give them an extra second or two.”

    The buzzer really could be the best solution. But make it reviewable. In theory, it should take about 4 seconds to fix the call. Clock is the same. Move them back 5 yards.

    But the main point we need to reach – THE PLAY CLOCK SHOULD NOT BE SUBJECTIVE!!!

  3. These things happen to losing teams more than winning teams. For some reason the Lions have been especially snakebit when it comes to officiating.

  4. The Lions are a comedic joke in NFL referee circles which is why there are no less than a dozen of these calls that go against them every year.

  5. In the real world, a person would get fired for such a critical on the job mistake.
    But the NFL and the referees union isn’t part of the real world, so lucky man!

  6. Unless the clock on TV wasnt in sych with the one in stadium I call BS. It was at least 3 seconds from the time clock hit zero on TV before snap. I yelled delay of game at the screen multiple times before it was finally snapped.

  7. I have no rooting interest in the Lions whatsoever but it does seem like every year they have at least one game where they get screwed over by this kind of stuff. It’s such a joke. If the play expired blow it dead. Not that hard guys

  8. That was a horrible non-call. It wasn’t even close. I had time to see the zero appear, then look up at the center and wait for a moment before the snap. It was way beyond any margin of error.

    I’m not a rooting fan of either team but that is a massively blown call. Kudos to Tucker for the kick, but he shouldn’t have had the chance.

  9. Refs ref and players play – take it any way we can get it – down 15 players on IR and 4 on Covid list – a win is a win and Tucker is the best kicker in the game!

  10. So let me get this straight, it’s a delay of game when the refs subjectively decide to enforce the rule? Got it. Thanks for clearing that up for us Scott.

  11. This happens all of the time. I get where Lion fans are salty, but it does really happen all of the time just like the ref said. It’s like traveling in basketball.

  12. There are three things certain in life: death, taxes and the losing team in an emotional game blaming the refs.

    Hey we witnessed NFL history today. Tucker!

  13. I’m so old I remember when the ref made the delay of game call without a clock. The game was just as good back then (the 70’s) as it is today.

    For the record, I HATE the play clock – especially when a team gets a big gain then has to run down the field to quickly start the next play. (not the case in the Ravens/Lions game).

    The Play Clock is unnecessary for good football.

    It’s sole use is to speed up change of possessions so as to increase the number of TV commercials.

    The Play Clock lessens the Game.

  14. Lions screwed again, why watch a fixed league? It’s like pro wrestling at this point, sure it’s entertainment, but in the end the result is pre-determined.

  15. The NFL loves to help the teams they want to help.
    I love it when they try to help and it backfires; I remember the Bears getting 2 seconds extra to snap but threw a game ending interception.
    You can drag a team to a good situation, but you still have to win; the Ravens definitely took the break and capitalized!

  16. People aren’t looking at what happened on the field. The Ravens did nothing to delay the game. The refs were moving around doing whatever and the Ravens were waiting on them to get the ball set.

  17. Where’s the crying for the horrible call of incomplete pass for the Lions that was really a fumble and the overturned call for touchdown when Williams shin clearly touched the ground before breaking the plane or are we only focusing on how the lions got ‘screwed’?

  18. I dont think I saw the catch fumble play but I did see the TD you are questioning… the view from the back of the endzone I thought was pretty clear he stayed off the ground till he was in.

  19. If that explanation were actually true then you’d NEVER see a delay of game call when the ball was snapped anywhere close to the clock running out. Yet, they frequently do manage to call it correctly. Sometimes you just have to admit you blew the call rather than come up with totally unbelievable explanations.

  20. Yea, it was a delay of game. But there wouldn’t have been a runoff penalty since the game clock was not running. Also, missed calls go both ways. Jamaal’s shin appeared to be down, there def was not irrefutable evidence to indicate the play should be overturned but for whatever reason it was overturned and called a touchdown.

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