If the officials working Sunday’s game in Ford Field between the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions did their jobs correctly, the Lions would have won the Week 3 game, 17-16. But because they did not, the Ravens escaped Detroit with a 19-17 win on Justin Tucker’s amazing, NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired.
It never should have been allowed to happen. On the play prior to Tucker’s incredible kick, the play clock clearly reached zero for at least two full seconds before Ravens QB Lamar Jackson even called for the snap. The obvious delay-of-game infraction was ignored.
This isn’t our first rodeo as Lions fans being on the wrong end of the officiating hose. There are too many to count, frankly. But this one hurts more because this wasn’t a judgment call by an official. Those happen, unfortunately. This was a blatant procedural error by Scott Novak and his crew to not pay attention to the play clock.
Here’s what former NFL referee and current CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore said after the game on the CBS postgame show,
“The back judge will be looking at the play clock and then taking his eyes back down to the ball. When he sees zero on the play clock he will move his head directly down to the football. That snap needs to occur right at that time. So is there an extra second built in there? Yeah there is … it does feel like that’s a little longer than your normal progression.”
To the credit of the CBS crew, notably Boomer Esiason, they drilled Steratore’s defense of the error. The segment concluded with a visibly angry Esiason confronting Steratore,
“Go tell that to Dan Campbell in that locker room.”
Esiason wasn’t the only one agitated by the egregious officiating error. Here’s a (cleaner) sampling of some social media reactions:
#Lions got royally screwed. There was a BLATANT delay of game not called on the previous play. Would’ve made that kick 71 yards. And as we saw, it wouldn’t have reached. (They wouldn’t have tried it.)
— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) September 26, 2021
After the game, Novak was asked about the controversy and appeared to be unaware that anything might have been amiss.
“I haven’t looked at the play. I have no idea. I can just tell you the mechanics of how it’s covered on the field,” Novak told the pool reporter.
That’s not an acceptable answer. The NFL can stop plays for review for just about anything, but they can’t do so for an officiating mistake. When they do, it’s an automatic 10-second runoff even though the players on the field had nothing to do with the problem.
Lions fans know that rule all too well. So does Jim Caldwell, who lost his job (in part) because his Lions missed the playoff when a poorly spotted ball by an official cost the team a win against the Falcons. His 9-7 Lions lost out on the playoff spot to the Falcons, who finished 10-6.
And that’s the most frustrating part. Players and coaches lose their jobs because of these officiating gaffes. The officials have no such recourse for their own mistakes. That needs to change.
Again, there is a difference between officiating judgment like hands-to-the-face or pass interference and play or clock mechanics and procedures. There is too much at stake for the NFL to not get the latter operations correct. And they did not do that in Ford Field on Sunday.
The NFL cannot change the outcome of the game. They can hold the officials accountable for their error, however. And the NFL must. The ball is on your field, Mr. Goodell…