The Washington Redskins don't deserve to be much better than 3-9.
Against the Giants, they started strong but then completely disappeared on both sides of the ball in their 24-17 home loss. It was their fourth loss in a row.
But the Redskins have every right to be upset about the way in which the officials mishandled the game-clinching moments.
Down seven points, the Redskins faced a 2nd-and-5 on their own 41-yard line with two minutes to play. Robert Griffin III completed a pass over the middle to Pierre Garcon, who was tackled right at the first-down marker. The ball was spotted just short of a first down, but the chain gang moved forward and the down box on the sideline indicated it was first down. No measurement was made.
Believing it was a first down, Griffin attempted a deep pass, which was dropped by Fred Davis.
With 1:31 to play, the officials announced that it was in fact 4th-and-short, rather than 2nd-and-10.
"You don't run that play," said an outraged Cris Collinsworth on the NBC broadcast, "if you don't know what the down is. You can't go back like that."
On fourth down, Griffin completed a pass to Garcon to (temporarily) convert, but Will Hill stripped Garcon, and the game essentially came to an end.
"They (the officiating crew) couldn't have screwed this up any more," said Al Michaels on the broadcast. "That is just brutal."
Third-and-1 and 1st-and-10 are obviously completely different scenarios. Had Washington known it was 3rd-and-short, it would not have taken a chance on a 20-yard throw to Davis. And the play on which Garcon fumbled wouldn't have happened.
Once the chains moved, the Redskins had every right to call a first-down play. And once the mistake was made and a play had been run, there was no going back.
But referee Jeff Triplette did exactly that.
In fact, following the game, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan stated the officials told him it was a first down.
When asked during his postgame press conference if they would have gone deep to Davis if they knew it was third down, Griffin said, "Probably not."
"Coach Kyle (Shanahan) called that play thinking it was 1st-and-10, get a nice shot down the middle of the field," said Griffin, per NFL Network. "He called it, we ran it. And you can't fault him. If the sticks say first down, you think it's first down."
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino released a statement on the situation that was tweeted out by Albert Breer:
With 2:00 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, Washington faced a second-and-5 from its own 41-yard line with no timeouts remaining. Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed a pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon for four yards. The ball was correctly spotted shy of the Washington 46, bringing up third down. "Referee Jeff Triplette signaled third down but the head linesman – with Washington in a “hurry-up” situation – incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains, which caused the down boxes to read first down. "Following a Washington incomplete pass, the chains were moved back and the down boxes correctly reset to fourth down. "In this situation where there is obvious confusion as to the status of the down, play should have been stopped prior to third down and the correct down communicated to both clubs. This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes. "Only the referee can rule and signal a first down. The official nearest to the down markers and chain crew, the head linesman, must wait for the first down signal from the referee before moving the chains. "Instant Replay did not become involved in this situation because the replay official determined that the ball on Garcon’s catch was correctly spotted short of the line to gain for a first down.
However, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport doesn't seem to think the NFL is going to take any drastic action on the officials:
This goes well beyond the shameful lack of clarity with regard to what down it was. During a frenzied final drive, mistakes are made. But this was multilayered, with three miscues compounding the problem:
1. There was no measurement.
2. The officials let play resume despite a clear lack of consensus regarding the down and distance. One official looked to be waving the chain gang forward, one apparently told Shanahan it was first down, and another looked to be holding up three fingers, indicating third down. That's chaos, and Triplette should have recognized that and blown the play dead. Better to get things right.
According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Triplette told a reporter after the game that he didn't shut the play down "because that would have given an unfair advantage." But, as Blandino suggested, letting the play begin under a cloud of confusion had the same effect.
3. Once a play had been run with the Redskins under the impression it was first down, Triplette's crew declared it was fourth down. Instead of fixing their original mistakes, they doubled down and made things a hell of a lot worse. It was a stubborn, myopic and unfair measure.
The Redskins are now mathematically eliminated. Would they have made the playoffs? No. Would they have won the game without this error? Maybe, maybe not. But this is professional football. This is a multibillion-dollar industry, and there's no room for error in those situations. Those scenarios can't be botched, period.
People's jobs are on the line here. With the Redskins now tied for the second-worst record in the league and the St. Louis Rams owning their first-round pick in May's draft, the implications of this blunder could spread wider than you'd expect.
Of course, there is a chance it made no difference at all.
Davis couldn't pull in a catchable pass, and Garcon turned the ball over. Those plays might not have happened had it not been for the original screwup, but we wouldn't be talking about said screwup had either play been made. The Redskins failed to execute, and there's a decent chance they weren't finding the end zone on that drive regardless.
But now, we'll never know. And that can't happen.
The league has already come out with a statement admitting the officials erred, and it'll likely be revealed that the crew involved will be downgraded.
But Triplette's been doing this for nearly two decades now. First of all, he isn't new to controversy, which is troubling. And second, you'd think he'd know by now that you can't make retroactive rulings once new plays have been run based on initial rulings that came from either him or his peers.
Maybe it's time the NFL take things one step further by sitting Triplette and his crew down for a week.