The NFL office admitted officials operating the game clock made a mistake during the Rams game against the Lions on Sunday, and although the error accounted for just seven seconds, it could have cost the Rams the game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The mistake came on a play that started with 2:45 left in a game the Lions would ultimately win 27-23 in Detroit.
On that play, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford scrambled out of the pocket and slid feet first near the St. Louis sideline. He stayed inbounds and no official signaled for a timeout.
However, the clock stopped with 2:38 left. After seven seconds had passed, line judge Shannon Eastin signaled that the game clock should be restarted.
"It was a mistake by the clock operator," a league spokesman told the Post-Dispatch. "He stopped the clock incorrectly. The officials did not signal for it to stop."
The problem for the Rams was that although the game clock stopped, the 40-second play clock did not. If the game clock has started properly, Rams coach Jeff Fisher could have waited until the two-minute warning to get a stoppage and run a third-down play after the two-minute warning. Instead he had to spend a timeout at the 2:03 mark to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. Then the clock stopped again after that third-down play for the two-minute warning before Greg Zuerlein's 46-yard field goal put the Rams ahead 23-20.
If there had been no clock error, Lions coach Jim Schwartz would have had to use his last timeout to stop the clock before or just after the two-minute warning. Otherwise, the Rams could have run another 30 seconds or so off the clock.
In essence Detroit got an extra timeout, and the Lions used that final timeout during their game-winning drive, which ended in a five-yard TD pass from Matthew Stafford to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds to play.
Clock operators are hired independently of the officiating crew.