With the Washington Redskins down by a touchdown and driving for a game-tying score with under two minutes left in Sunday night's game against the New York Giants, Jeff Triplette's officiating crew mistakenly gave the Redskins a first down following a second-down reception, then changed their minds one play later. The deep pass Robert Griffin III threw on that first-and-10 retroactively became a third-and-1 pass, thus setting up the Redskins for a fourth-down attempt that eventually turned into a Pierre Garcon fumble.
It was another confusing, chaotic ending to an NFL primetime game.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth immediately noticed the error on NBC's broadcast and were apoplectic about the mistake.
"They couldn't have screwed this up anymore," Michael said. "That is brutal."
The trouble began when Pierre Garcon appeared short of the marker on his second-down reception. At the very least, there should have been a measurement. But the chain gang on the sideline moved down the field anyway, changing the marker from 2 to 1. This signaled that there a first down had been called. Or so the Redskins believed. As later replays showed, there was disagreement between the officials, but instead of stopping the game to figure it out, they watched as the Redskins ran a play - a deep pass that was dropped by Fred Davis. The team called the play believing the pass was coming on first down. A third-and-short would have likely brought a safer play designed to pick up the appropriate yardage to extend the drive.
"If the sticks say first down, you think it's first down," Griffin told reporters after the game.
That didn't happen. Triplette told the chains to move back 10 yards. That 1st down pass retroactively became a 3rd down pass and the markers turned from 1 to 4, as seen in this screenshot below.
In the booth, Michaels was dumbfounded.
"They really screwed this thing up. [Triplette] just said fourth down. We saw it, it was short of the first down, the chain gang moved into first down position, then Triplette comes into after the play and says they didn't a first down."
Replays showed Triplette was always signaling for third down, but didn't stop play while the rest of the crew believed it to be first down. It was a total miscommunication.
The Redskins fourth-and-1 play appeared to work, as Garcon caught a ball from RG3. But it was wrested away by a Giants defender, effectively ending the game.
Rather than praising the Giants' victory, Michaels and Collinsworth were still discussing the controversial ending.
"This is professional football, this is where you're supposed to get these things right," Collinsworth said on the broadcast. "It is absolutely, blatantly unfair to the Washington Redskins."
Mike Shanahan was asked about the screw-up after the game.
Whether it was the fault of the line judge for his poor spot, the head linesman for not calling for a measurement, Triplette for not stopping play or the reply official for not buzzing down, someone wearing black and white was at fault on Sunday night. Al Michaels had a prediction for how the guilty party should be dealt with.
"Mike Tomlin's not the only guy who should get fined tomorrow," he said.