The criticism of the NFL officials is as strong as it has ever been, and if the Green Bay Packers are telling the truth, the worst mistake came at the end of their game on Sunday.
The Packers got to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line in the final minute, trailing 38-31. A false start penalty led to a 10-second runoff, but the Packers still had 10 seconds and second down, enough time to run two or maybe three plays.
Then a funny thing happened. The Packers inexplicably waited seven seconds to snap the ball after the whistle was blown to re-start the clock. The snap came with three seconds left, and by the time Matt Flynn's pass hit the ground incomplete, time had run out.
The Packers say the umpire in the middle of the field told Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith to not snap the ball, even as the clock was running. The umpire on Sunday in Green Bay was Undrey Wash.
“We were all up, all set, and he came up and told Evan to take his hand off the ball,” left guard Josh Sitton told the Packers' web site. “Then we all kind of got up, and then he wound the clock. I think we were ready, and I think that took a few more seconds than it should have.”
The Packers' web site wrote that Dietrich-Smith was ready to snap when the clock re-started but the umpire said to hold off.
“It’s tough. It hurts,” offensive tackle Don Barclay told Packers.com. “Especially when you’re sitting there ready to snap the ball and the ref was over our center not letting us. I don’t know what reason. We probably could have had two plays off if we could have snapped the ball when we were over it.”
This is worse than your garden-variety blown pass interference call. If what the Packers say is true, and the officials blew the game management in the final seconds so badly that they were responsible for the Packers getting only one play in the final seconds instead of two or three, that's inexcusable. That isn't a judgment call that a majority doesn't agree with, it's a major error that went uncorrected and cost a team a chance to tie the game.
There's something about teams in Wisconsin and officials not letting them snap the ball. Wisconsin had a game stolen from it at Arizona State during the college regular season when the officials wouldn't let the Badgers snap the ball as the final 17 seconds ran off. The Pac-12 admitted later that the officials screwed up.
The Packers were on the receiving end of a pretty fortunate call earlier in the game, an illegal batting penalty that came when officials ruled the Steelers didn't have possession on a blocked field goal although they clearly did. But two wrongs don't make a right. If the officials told Green Bay they weren't allowed yet to snap the ball, even as the clock was running, that's the worst moment for NFL officials in a season filled with them.
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