(WJLA) - The referees for Sunday's game between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants should have stopped play during a controversial 4th quarter series, the NFL says, to allay "obvious confusion" about what down it was.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports that the sticks that measure 1st down yardage were incorrectly moved during a potentially game-tying drive for the Redskins that left coaches and players confused about whether Washington had earned a 1st 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," the NFL said in its statement.
The play in question happened with less than 2 minutes to play and the Redskins trailing 24-17. On 2nd down and 5, Robert Griffin III completed a pass to Pierre Garcon that appeared to reach the line to gain, prompting the chain gang to move the sticks.
However, referee Jeff Triplette immediately signaled that Garcon did not get a first down and signaled 3rd down. That caused confusion between the referees, players and head coach Mike Shanahan. Thinking that they had earned the new set of downs, Griffin threw a deep, incomplete pass to Fred Davis.
They quickly learned that it was now 4th down, though. Only the referee is allowed to signal exactly which down it is; other officials and the chain gang must wait for the referee's signal before proceeding.
"Next thing we know, it's fourth-and-1 all of a sudden. I don't know how they can take it back," Redskins offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger told ESPN. "That changes everything for our offense."
On the 4th down, Griffin completed a pass to Garcon for a 1st down, but he fumbled the ball. New York recovered and ran out the clock.