The Washington Redskins were eliminated from playoff contention with their 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night, and adding to their frustration was an officiating gaffe that’s sure to invite NFL scrutiny.
With two minutes to play and Washington trailing by a touchdown, the Redskins had a second-and-five at their 36. Robert Griffin III hit Pierre Garcon for a short gain that looked to be just shy of a first down.
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said later that he asked officials for a measurement and was told by them, “You don’t have to; it’s a first down.”
Sure enough, the crew moved the chains to indicate first down, and Griffin ran a first-down-type play, a long pass to tight end Fred Davis that was dropped.
As it turned out, however, that was third down. Although the chain gang had moved downfield, the officials never ruled it a first down. So, instead of, say, a short-yardage run to get the first, the Redskins -- believing they already had the first -- had tried a lower-percentage play.
“After I saw it was fourth down, I asked [the official], 'You already told me it was first down.' He didn't say anything,” Shanahan said.
Said Griffin: “All I know is we had the pass to Fred, [and] we thought that was first down. The chains said first down. When we came back, we think it's second-and-10, and they're yelling out it's fourth down. ... No explanation, no measurement. They didn't stop the clock to allow the chains to move back. We decided to call the play and go for it on fourth down.”
The Redskins would have gotten the first down anyway, as Griffin again connected with Garcon for a six-yard gain on fourth-and-1, but Giants safety Will Hill pried the ball out of the receiver’s hands, ending Washington’s last-gasp drive.
Afterward, referee Jeff Triplette defended the officials’ actions during the sequence in question, telling a pool reporter: “I feel like we signaled third down. The stakes just got moved incorrectly.”
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