The officials in the St. Louis Rams–San Francisco 49ers game made a major mistake Sunday. During an official’s time out for a measurement they let a minute and twelve seconds run off of the clock. Then they compounded the problem by not being able to correct it.
With 13:40 left in the second quarter San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith completed a third down pass that was close enough to the first down mark that the officials decided on a measurement. A timeout was called while the chains were brought out, but no one stopped the clock. None of the officials on the field noticed. The 49ers decided to go for it and ran a play on fourth down. After the play was run the clock error was detected.
By rule officials can correct timing errors, but they must be done before the ball is snapped for the next play. Once a play has been run then the clock cannot be reset. Since San Francisco ran a play the one minute and twelve seconds that was lost could not be put back on the clock.
The four biggest mistakes that a football official can make are awarding a touchdown when a player does not break the plane of the goal line, an inadvertent whistle which kills a play, losing a down and losing time. None of these things should ever happen, but do. In the NFL, replay can take care of the touchdown. The inadvertent whistle can not be corrected only rectified. Officials can get together and figure out what down it is. Time issues can be corrected if they are caught.
How no one caught the time error Sunday is anybody’s guess, but it should not have happened. There are seven officials on the field. Not all of them are involved during a measurement. It is the line judge’s job to keep the time on the field. He must make sure that the clock stops. If he does not someone among the down field officials should.
When the officials were done measuring for the first down, the line judge should have looked at his watch and the game clock to make sure that they were in sync. If he had done this before the next play then the error would have been detected. He did not and precious time was lost.
By losing more than a minute the officials lost at least two plays maybe three. This may be the equivalent of losing three downs. One down can not be lost in a football game much less three.
The officials made a major mistake. The only thing that can be said is they are human like everyone else.