The list and severity of grievances from local sports fans seems to get amplified during A) games against rivals, B) games that are going poorly and C) questions about officiating.
The trifecta hit in multiple cases, then, during Sunday’s frustrating 21-16 Vikings loss to the Packers. Pick your least favorite offensive pass interference call … or simply note that the Vikings were flagged 8 times for 100 yards (compared to 6 and 35 for Green Bay) and we’ll get this fire going in no time.
But one thing in particular seemed to have the attention of a lot of folks (myself included) on Twitter Sunday: Aaron Rodgers’ propensity to bring the play clock within a fraction of zero, sometimes beyond, before snapping the ball … and yet not being flagged all day for delay of game. (Screen grab via @joefujinaka).
Indeed, it appeared that multiple times the play clock had run out on Green Bay, but the only delay penalty called during the game on the Packers came near the very end of the game and was intentional before a punt. So why wasn’t it called on Rodgers and the Packers? Let’s investigate:
*If you are operating under the assumption that the play clock you see on TV is somehow different than the play clock in the stadium, that is incorrect. Ryan Russell, a former student of mine who now works in broadcasting, confirms what I’ve seen reported elsewhere: the clocks are connected directly into the broadcast, so what you see in the stadium is what you see on TV. That doesn’t always work flawlessly, but that’s standard operating procedure.
Translation: It’s unlikely any clock discrepancy accounted for the lack of delay penalties, whereby officials were seeing time left when home viewers were not.
*A better, though not wholly satisfying, explanation comes from the Football Zebras site, which tackled this very question last year.
Basically, the back judge is the one who calls delay of game, and he or she has to monitor both the play clock and the center/QB. If the play clock hits zero:
If the center is snapping the ball, the back judge does not call delay of game. If the quarterback is still in his cadence and the center has not snapped the ball, then the back judge throws a flag for delay of game. Since the back judge has to transition his eyes from the clock to the center, the offense naturally gets around an extra quarter of a second to get the snap off. The back judge can’t look in two places at once.
*OK, simple fix right? Just let the back judge get notified in some way (like a buzzer on his or her hip?) that the play clock has expired so he or she doesn’t have to look in two places at once. Then the play clock can be a true 40 seconds, not 40.25 seconds or some such thing.
Ah, here’s where things get particularly frustrating. The NFL … doesn’t want it that way. Again, per Football Zebras: The Competition Committee does not want this parsed down to tenths of a second. They want the offense to be able to snap on the zero, but not after. … If we went to an exact science of determining delay of game, the game would bog down with a big jump in delay of game fouls.
Moreover, there’s this tweet from last year suggesting that — per NBC NFL officiating expert Terry McAulay, an NFL referee for two decades — the play clock is kind of just a suggestion.
Huh? That seems absurd, particularly to those of us who watch decisions in other leagues like the NBA determined to the fractions of seconds. It’s kind of left to a back judge’s discretion, sort of like an umpire calling balls and strikes.
*That makes it much easier to believe what Vikings fans would like to believe in the first place: That Rodgers is getting away with special treatment and/or there is a vast conspiracy against the purple, particularly in Lambeau Field.
But: According to NFL Penalties, the Packers were called for delay of game nine times in 2018 (seven accepted, two declined), the most of any team in the NFL. The Vikings were flagged just three times.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Rodgers doesn’t cross the line far more often than he is flagged for — nor does it decrease the outrage factor on a frustrating Sunday.