BENZ: Ex-NFL ref says officials had 'complete administrative breakdown' in Steelers loss

The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
NFL referee John Hussey

Pittsburgh Steelers fans who are angry about how the first half of the Monday evening game ended have every right to be.

So does head coach Mike Tomlin.

That's the opinion of former NFL referee Gene Steratore. The western Pennsylvania native is now an officiating analyst for CBS. He called the chaos surrounding Washington's last-second field goal at the end of the second quarter "a complete administrative breakdown by the officials."

The Steelers sacked Washington quarterback Alex Smith on a third down with only 19 seconds remaining on a running clock. Washington had just spent its third (and final) timeout prior to that snap.

After Smith was sacked, he ran to the sidelines with the ball. And the "K-ball" (or kicking ball) was "not near where it needed to be brought in" according to referee John Hussey.

As a result, there was no ball to kick on the running clock. So the clock was stopped with eight seconds remaining, and Washington's Dustin Hopkins drilled a 49-yard field goal to trim Washington's deficit to 14-3.

Every point mattered in the game, as it was still tied at 17-17 with 2:49 left when Hopkins kicked the eventual go-ahead field goal. He added another before the game ended, and Washington won 23-17.

How the problem started: Steratore says the problem started when Washington called timeout before third down. Steratore contends that, at that point, the officials should have communicated with each other to get the K-ball ball ready, knowing that Washington didn't have another timeout between third down and fourth down.

He believes the crew should've better anticipated the hurried field goal attempt. Stephon Tuitt sacked Smith with 19 seconds on a running clock. On his wireless microphone, Hussey described the ensuing clock stoppage as an "administrative issue."

That phrase is in the NFL's officiating guidelines, according to Steratore. But it is normally reserved for incidents such as the chain crew getting wiped out during a collision on the sideline, or similar such complications.

Not a blown stoppage of the clock. Which is how Steratore described what took place.

"When you stop this clock, regardless of who benefits, this play is a blowup," Steratore said during his weekly appearance on WDVE radio.

What should've transpired: Here's what should've transpired according to Steratore.

"Immediately (after the sack), one of these officials should be screaming to get a K-ball," Steratore explained.

He went on to say that if, for some reason, an official couldn't grab a suitable K-ball, then they should use any other ball.

"We aren't in a Pop Warner game where we hired someone off the sideline to run around with the balls and disappear a little early to get in line before halftime. There are people on the sideline in the NFL. One with the regular footballs, and another guy with a big vest on and a giant letter 'K' is standing next to that official with all the kicking balls."

But that wasn't where the screw-up ended.

"Then there was the inadvertent signaling of the official stopping of the clock with eight seconds left. And that can never happen. You don't stop a clock like that because someone doesn't have a football yet."

Tomlin peeved: Understandably, Tomlin was still peeved Tuesday afternoon about what transpired.

"I knew they were wrong," Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference. "I was trying to help them get it right. I'm not looking for explanations."

Some Steelers fans on Twitter were wondering why Smith wasn't called for a delay of game. Steratore had an answer for that question, too.

"If it's third down going to fourth, we really aren't supposed to kick with anything besides a K-ball," Steratore explained. "So it's not a delay of game by rule in that sense because he is not doing anything intentionally to benefit his team. But he is actually putting them in a more difficult position."

Steratore added, Smith shouldn't have left the field with the ball. But "80% of plays in the NFL" don't end with the officials using the same ball on the next snap, unless the previous play had been "a run up the middle between the hashes."

However, the poor decision to stop the clock negates any part of that discussion anyway.

"The criticism that should follow is justified, and it isn't an acceptable mistake at this level of football."

OK. So my next question is, what becomes of the officials who botched the procedure? And what stops another quarterback from trying to induce the same level of confusion next week?