Just before the clock struck 12 …
What? Another officiating debacle? Washington did quite enough to lose to the Giants 24-17 at FedEx Field, and probably would have lost without striped impediments; their receiving corps ought to be nicknamed The Bad Hands People. But referee Jeff Triplette’s crew had far too big a role in the final Washington drive of the game, and far too big an influence on the outcome. In brief, here’s what happened last night in the final two minutes:
In the first play after the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, on 2nd-and-5 from his own 41, Robert Griffin III hit Pierre Garçon for a gain close to the first down. The head linesman, Phil McKinnely, motioned for the chains to be moved forward for a first down, and the chain gang rushed up and changed the down marker from “2” to “1.” First down. Except Washington was in the hurry-up offense, and the ref, Triplette, standing behind the offense, held up three fingers. Third down.
On the sideline, coach Mike Shanahan said he asked an official for a measurement, and the official responded, “You don’t have to. It’s a first down.” And so the playcall went in for a 1st-and-10 play, a deep ball down the seam for tight end Fred Davis. The ball should have been caught by Davis, but it was jarred loose by Giants safety Antrel Rolle.
Fourth down, signaled Triplette. Shanahan seemed apoplectic on the sidelines. The side judge was telling him first down on the previous play; the head linesman had already signaled first down and moved the chains up … and now Triplette was insisting it was fourth down. Washington had no timeouts left. Griffin, now on fourth down, threw to Garçon for six yards and a first down—and safety Will Hill stripped Garçon of the ball. Giants ball. Game over. Had Garçon not coughed it up, Washington would have had a first down at the Giants’ 49 with the clock running and about 1:19 to play. So this didn’t cost Washington the game, per se. But it was a massive failure of the crew.
After the game, in a pool report with a local writer, Triplette said he felt it would have been “an unfair advantage” to Washington to stop the clock and get the down situation straight with his crew and the chain gang.
My biggest question: In the final two minutes of either half, instant replay can buzz down to correct or adjudicate a spotting of the ball. Why not do so in these types of cases, especially when there’s obvious chaos on the field? As for Triplette’s saying stopping the clock would have created an unfair advantage for Washington: Does that mean an officiating crew never can call for a measurement when the offensive team is out of timeouts? It’s a spurious contention by Triplette; yes, it would have advantaged Washington to stop the clock. But two officials on the crew think it’s a first down, and one has motioned the chain crew up the field. Getting order restored and giving clarity to chaos is far more important than the 40 or so seconds the game would been paused to get the situation right. By the crew’s failure to clarify what was going on, Washington’s play-calling was bastardized by the obvious impression that it was a different down than what it was.
As former NFL official Jim Daopoulos told me this morning: “It’s a reviewable play, and at the very least it should have been reviewed. But Jeff has the power to stop the clock there. What problem would it have been to stop the clock? What was going on on the field was an error that had to be corrected. I don’t understand it.”
That makes a nation of us.
* * *
Another effort at diversity.
The NFL was chagrined last January when 14 consecutive coach and general manager vacancies were filled by white men. So this fall a committee of eight former coaches and GMs was formed by the league to address the issue with league executives Robert Gulliver and Troy Vincent. As I reported on NBC last night, the committee finalized its plan to address minority hiring last week by compiling a double-digit list of candidates for head coaches and general managers, going beyond the usual suspects. In essence, the league will provide the kind of service teams have been buying through headhunting firms: If an owner calls wanting to know whom the top offensive prospects are, the league will have a list of prospects to discuss with them, and will make available the men they’d want to discuss the openings with anyway—such as former coach Tony Dungy or former GM Bill Polian, two of the eight committee members, or any of those who have been in the hiring chair before on the committee.
“The focus is not just the hot name,” said Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s executive vice president for human resources. “It’s identifying the new talent too. New names will emerge.”
The coaching list, for instance, will contain the top names—Stanford coach David Shaw, former Bears coach Lovie Smith [both African-American] and former Bucs and Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is white. But Jon’s not the only Gruden on the list. Brother Jay is on it; he’s the Cincinnati offensive coordinator who has shepherded Andy Dalton through two straight playoff seasons and is on the way to a third. And minority coaches Mel Tucker (Chicago defensive coordinator] and Eric Studesville (Denver running backs coach), both of whom have been interim head coaches, got high marks from the committee too.
Of course, owners don’t have to use the committee’s recommendation. Who knows if any will? Owners will do what owners want to do. The system works when owners and hirers go into the process with a truly open mind. In 2007, Pittsburgh’s Dan Rooney had a blank slate entering the process, and he ended up hiring a coach he’d never met before, Mike Tomlin. In Chicago last winter, GM Phil Emery went into his search wide open, interviewed 13 candidates and hired Marc Trestman from the CFL—a man on no one’s radar entering the process. That’s the key: not determining in October or November that there’s one man you have to have and focusing all your energy on him.
* * *
The ($2-Million) Invisible Man
Here’s what Josh Freeman has done in his eight games as a Viking:
Week 6 Carolina, inactive
Week 7 at Giants, 20 of 53, no TDs, one interception in loss to previously 0-6 Giants
Week 8 Green Bay, inactive
Week 9 at Dallas, inactive
Week 10 Washington, active. Did not play.
Week 11 at Seattle, inactive
Week 12 at Green Bay, inactive
Week 13 Chicago, inactive
Just wondering what happens when owner Zygi Wilf and GM Rick Spielman, who went out on a limb to spend $2 million to bring Freeman in, have an encounter. Does Wilf say, “Why exactly am I paying $2 million to someone who’s a healthy scratch every week?”
* * *
* * *
I love this from Chip Kelly.
This has nothing to do with his game Sunday, but I read it from Kelly’s Thanksgiving Day meeting with reporters in Philadelphia and wanted to pass it along. The vast majority of quotes distributed by teams are space-fillers, but on Thursday, Kelly was asked about hiring Bill Davis as defensive coordinator despite a stint as coordinator in Arizona where “his numbers weren’t great.”
Said Kelly: “I think people get so caught up in statistics that sometimes it’s baffling to me. You may look at a guy and say, ‘Well, they were in the bottom of the league defensively.’ Well, they had 13 starters out. They should be at the bottom of the league defensively. Is that Billy’s fault? I don’t know what it was, but I don’t look at it that way. I hired [former Oregon offensive coordinator and current Oregon head coach] Mark Helfrich as our offensive coordinator when I was at the University of Oregon. Their numbers were not great at Colorado. But you sit down and talk football with Helf for about 10 minutes. He’s a pretty sharp guy and really brought a lot to the table, and he’s done an outstanding job. He’s now the head coach at Oregon. Whoever coached Adrian Peterson, is that the best running back coach in the country? I don’t know. I’ve got to meet him. He could actually be. But let’s find out what he teaches. Some of it, you’re teaching to what you have available to you and sometimes that’s something that I consider. So I don’t look at the statistics part of it and say, ‘Hey, we need to get that coach.’ Sometimes, honestly, if you look at statistics, you need to get that player.”