You may have noticed during Sunday’s broadcast of the Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers game that quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested the limits of the play clock several times throughout the game. Per the FOX broadcast, it sure looked like the Packers avoided a couple of situations in which they could have been called for delay of game, with the on-TV clock expiring to zero before Green Bay getting the snap off. But that sort of thing tends to happen on a weekly basis. No big deal, right?
Well, a user over at reddit compiled all those situations from Sunday’s game, and it turns out it didn’t happen just once or twice. It happened a total of EIGHT (8!!!) times throughout Sunday’s contest. Check it out.
Now before we all go up in arms about a Packers conspiracy amongst the officiating crews, there are a couple of caveats to this discovery.
For one, the television broadcast clock is not always 100 percent synced with the play clock in the stadium. That said, as someone who was at Sunday’s game, I can personally vouch that the play clock expired at least three times on site before the Rodgers got the snap. Lions radio commentator T.J. Lang also mentioned it several times during the broadcast.
The other important aspect of this discovery is that NFL officials have been coached to allow a little wiggle room here. Essentially, the back judge—located in the middle of the defensive side of the field—will be watching the play clock. When the play clock expires, they’ll turn their attention to the snap of the ball, and if in that half-second of the back judge shifting their focus the offense snaps the ball, they will not be called for delay of game. You can see on a couple of these instances—where Rodgers gets the snap off just fractions of a second after the clock expires—why the refs didn’t throw the flag.
Former NFL official and current CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore explained the process here:
When the play clock is about to expire, there is usually a half or one second delay for officials to blow the whistle because of the mechanics of how the play is officiated. The delay in #NEvsGB exceeded the normal amount of time that you usually see for a flag to be thrown.
— Gene Steratore (@GeneSteratore) October 2, 2022
But it’s also worth noting that this “wiggle room” is not written into the rule book. It simply states that when the play clock expires, it’s a penalty. This is an entirely arbitrary amount of time that is 100 percent at the discretion of refs.
Of course, this is not an unfamiliar issue for the Lions. In their infamous loss to the Baltimore Ravens last year, Lamar Jackson failed to snap the ball before the play clock expired on the penultimate play of the game. The officials did not call delay of game, and the Ravens would win on the very next play on a 66-yard field goal.
After that game, Lions coach Dan Campbell talked about his understanding of the delay of game rule.
“I didn’t turn it into the league, but I called and it’s really a subjective call is really what it came down to,” Campbell said. “So, I think they’re kind of split on it. You guys have heard the procedure of it and I’ll be honest with you, I’m so over it now.”
But this begs the question: Why does this have to be subjective? The expiration of a clock is not subjective. It’s as black and white as they come, and there is no wiggle room in any other sport when it comes to the clock (except for soccer and their inane stoppage time). The clock expires when it expires, and it should not be hard to enforce that.
I know this didn’t change the outcome of the game, and it feels petty to complain about it after a win, but this is an entirely fixable problem. So do something about it already, NFL.