NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino admitted Monday his crew should have stopped play to eliminate "obvious confusion" about the down and distance that led to the controversial finish of the Giants' 24-17 victory over the Redskins.
With the clock running and under two minutes remaining, and with Washington out of timeouts, referee Jeff Triplette said he believed halting time to explain the situation to a livid Mike Shanahan would have provided an unfair advantage to the Redskins' offense.
Had Triplette done what Shanahan wanted – not to mention what the NFL acknowledged he should have done – Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday that he would have been the coach angry with the way the circumstances unfolded.
"We would have been upset had the clock been stopped. Sure we would've," Coughlin said. "Not that it would've made a difference, but we would've."
Coughlin's confidence likely comes from the reality that _ because of the way things ultimately played out _ the botched decision by the officials was not what cost Washington the game.
If anything, the Redskins had two chances to seize the moment and failed, mostly due to timely plays by the Giants' secondary.
The commotion began with a second-and-5 completion from Robert Griffin III to wide receiver Pierre Garcon, which brought possession to the Redskins' 45-yard line with 1:37 remaining and the Giants ahead by seven points. Garcon was marked short of the first-down marker and Triplette correctly signaled third down.
But with the Redskins in a hurry-up offense, the linesman on the Washington sideline incorrectly motioned for the crew to advance the chains, which caused the down boxes to read first down.
"When I saw the marker said 'first down,' I was trying to signal to Coach Coughlin, like, 'You might want to challenge that,' because it was not a first down," Giants defensive end Justin Tucksaid. "He was short. Lucky for us it worked out, but it wasn't a first down. Everybody on the field could see that."
Everybody except the Redskins, so on what they believed to be first down and not third-and-1, Griffin fired incomplete deep over the middle to tight end Fred Davis.
Davis had the ball in his hands and would have been down inside the Giants' 35 before a hit from safety Antrel Rolle knocked the ball to the ground.
After the play, the chains were moved back and the down boxes were correctly reset to fourth down, which clearly drew the ire of Shanahan.
"In this situation where there is obvious confusion as to the status of the down, that play should have been stopped prior to third down and the correct down communicated to both clubs," Blandino said in a statement. "This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes."
Only the referee _ in this case Triplette _ can rule and signal a first down. The head linesman is required to wait for that first-down signal from the referee before moving the chains, and that did not happen.
The Redskins claimed they would have called a different play had they known it was third down.
"What it looked like, they marked it first down on one side and not on the other side, so they thought they had a first down even though they didn't," Giants linebacker Jon Beason said. "(Shanahan) was upset and he's over there yelling, and I was talking to him, saying, 'But you didn't get it.' I don't think he could hear me, but I was pointing, it wasn't a first down. Everybody makes mistakes, I guess."
On what was fourth-and-1 _ the correct down and distance _ Griffin completed a 6-yard pass to Garcon for the first down along the Giants' sideline. But cornerback Jayron Hosley stood him up with a tackle and teammate Will Hill stole the ball for the game-sealing turnover.
"An exceptional play, certainly a play above the X's and O's," Coughlin said.
Said Tuck: "Lucky for us, Will came and made a play, and really made (the controversy) a moot point, honestly."