Apparently savvy clock move by Alex Smith confuses refs, leads to Washington FG in upset of Steelers

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Confusion reigned in the closing seconds of the first half of Monday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Football Team.

And an apparently savvy move by Alex Smith may have earned Washington a field goal en route to its 23-17 upset, handing the previously undefeated Steelers their first loss of the season.

With Washington driving with no timeouts and trailing 14-0, Smith was sacked by Stephon Tuitt as the game clock ran below 20 seconds. Washington was in field-goal range at the Pittsburgh 31-yard line, but would have to rush its kicking team onto the field.

As Dustin Hopkins lined up for a kick, the clock ran down to zero, signaling the end of the half. But the half wasn’t over.

Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) looks to throw a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Did Alex Smith know what he was doing when he carried the football to the sideline against the Steelers? (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

‘Administrative issues’ lead to more time on clock

Referee John Hussey turned on his microphone to announce that “administrative issues” led to the clock winding down, and called for eight seconds to be put back on the clock. This whole time, the Washington field-goal unit had time to collect itself and line up for a kick.

The clock then started with eight seconds, and Hopkins sent the 49-yard field goal through the uprights for Washington’s first points of the game.

So, what just happened?

Fans, announcers and even Fox’s officiating expert Dean Blandino were all confused at what happened. Blandino gave his best effort to decipher the situation, explaining that in situations with running clocks, officials don’t spot a K-ball, a football used specifically for kicking. They instead place the ball in play to be kicked as quickly as possible.

That didn’t explain what happened. Replay of the aftermath of the third-down sack shed more light on the situation. After being tackled for a loss, Smith didn’t leave the football on the field. He carried it to the sideline as the kicking team took the field.

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So there was no ball — K-ball or otherwise — on the field for officials to spot. So they used their discretion to stop the clock, which appeared to give the Washington kicking team enough time to set up for the successful field goal.

Did Smith — a 14-season NFL veteran — have all this planned out when he carried the ball off the field? Or did he just instinctively rush to the sideline with time winding down and forget to leave the ball in play?

“I was trying to get that ball off to get the K ball on,” Smith told reporters after the game. ... “It was not intentional. I was just trying to speed up the process.”

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