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Posted at 1:37 PM ET, 12/13/2010

About the Redskins' fifth down

By Dan Steinberg


My Redskins beat-writing brothers sort of went over this Sunday night, but it's still festering. In fact, when I posted the missed holding/mugging of Brian Orakpo, I got several e-mails from Buccaneers fans asking why I ignored the gifted fifth down. So here we go.

As you can see above, sort of, the down box appears to be slightly behind the 12-yard line. Casey Rabach has the ball at about the 12-and-a-half-yard line. But the first-down marker appears to be right around the 3-yard line. Since NFL rules generally stipulate that 10 yards are needed for a first down, that doesn't make much sense.


Regardless, Donovan McNabb then threw complete to Anthony Armstrong, who was marked down inside the 3, where the first-down marker had been stationed. Frankly, it doesn't look like anyone touched Armstrong, so when he jumped up and ran to the end zone, I'd maybe have called that a touchdown. If you want to call him down, though, he was inside the 3 but outside the 2.





The television broadcast didn't show any officials signaling first down, but they must have, because the chain crew put up the first-down signal and took down the first-down marker. Players from both sides said there was never any confusion on the field as to what down it was.





The television broadcast never showed the referee spotting the ball, but you can see that the next play was run from about the 2-and-a-half line. That's right about where Armstrong would have been down were he actually down. Since the previous play was run from about the 12, it would appear the Redskins should have been about a third of a yard short of a first down, to use gross and awful estimations based on grainy television photographs. But everyone on the field was operating like this was first down, and clearly, if they had thought differently, the Redskins would have used a 2nd-and-1 playcall instead of a 1st-and-goal playcall.





And after a disaster of an incompletion in the direction of Roydell Williams, this was second down. Now, they look to be slightly closer to the 3 than the 2, so probably Armstrong shouldn't have been given the first down. But everyone is operating like this is second down.





Which is why, after the failed third-down pass to Fred Davis, no one on either team betrayed any hint that the game was over. They all just walked back to the line of scrimmage.

So essentially, the argument is that, due to faulty placement of the first-down marker and a potentially bad spot, the Redskins were given a first down they didn't deserve, then allowing them one extra chance for the tying score. I still say allowing blatant holding leading to a long touchdown pass is worse.

(See much more at TBD and the AP, and video at Shutdown Corner.)

By Dan Steinberg  | December 13, 2010; 1:37 PM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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Comments

Steinbog, as usual, you're all over it. Well done again, sir. More important question, what toppings are you getting on your pizza tonight? How many different kinds of cheese?

Posted by: kevin2504 | December 13, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

This is why broadcasters tell viewers every other play that the yellow line is not official.

Posted by: GFisher1 | December 13, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for touching on the fact that no one touched Armstrong, so he wasn't down and the touchdown should have been called. I was screaming about that one.

Posted by: LurkerNowPoster | December 13, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for touching on the fact that no one touched Armstrong, so he wasn't down and the touchdown should have been called. I was screaming about that one.

Posted by: LurkerNowPoster | December 13, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Watching on TV, I was totally confused. The announcers seemed to miss the proper down as well. Question, why did the booth not have a review on the play that Armstrong seemed to catch the ball after being touched. After the touchdown to Santana Moss, I was thinking why not go for 2. Tampa had done that in a past game and made it(yes after a Redskin offside moved the ball half distance to goal iine) As it turned out the going for 2 may have won the game right then, even if they do not get the 2 point conversion....it would have been easier to take than the way it actually ended

Posted by: gcirrus | December 13, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

You're crazy, guy. The stats recorded it as less than a 10 yard gain, yet the officials called it a 1st down.

You may have grainy television photos, but I watched this broadcast in HD and watched this series of plays over and over again. It was, without a doubt, a huge mistake by the officals. There is no other reasonable explanation, and it's blatantly obvious that the yard markers are a complete yard off from the pictures you posted in this very blog. You can't see the bottom of the scrimmage marker, but you can see the bottom of the 1st down marker, and if you compare where the bottom to the top, you can see right where the bottom of the scrimmage marker would be; almost directly on the hash.

Posted by: Trav9 | December 13, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Also I think someone in the comments on the Football Outsiders blog remarked that the "official" chain gang was on the near sideline, so you can't really tell where the exact line of scrimmage is.

Posted by: koalatek | December 13, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

@Lurker, I also never saw Armstrong get touched and was screaming. In my head.

@GF,

The point is not that the ball did or didn't cross the broadcast's estimated line: it's that based on the refs' own spotting of the ball and the attendant down marker, the ball never moved past a point ten yards closer to the goal-line. Until Moss's TD catch, that is.

Getting five downs or getting a wrongful first down (for only moving the ball 9 yards) = splitting hairs.

Thanks for the good work, Dan.

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | December 13, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

(And if there is only one, true set of yard markers, those not visible to the tv viewer and half the stadium, and the other yard markers are every bit as much an estimate as the tv broadcast's magic lines, well, then multiple people are not doing their jobs.)

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | December 13, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Don't know why anyone should worry about the officials giving Washington a mulligan on their first and goal opportunity.

Sort of a pay back for earlier allowing the mugging of Orakpo -- which led to a Tampa Bay touchdown.

Besides, NFL officials have often stressed the need to maintain "league parody" -- and over the past ten years, no team has risen to this challenge more often than our own beloved burgundy and gold.

Posted by: Vic1 | December 13, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

If you're so incensed by the non-call for Orakpo, surely you're just as infuriated by the numerous non-calls against the Skins throughout the game for holds, facemasks, and so on.

Didn't think so.

By the way...third-of-a-yard, half-a-yard, a whole yard, the outcome is the same. He was short of the first down. Go back to 13:20 left in the 4th and get back to us on how little one yard means.

Judgment calls aside, there's one thing that should be impossible for the zebras to botch....stretching out a chain that is pre-measured for them.

Posted by: MichaelS1 | December 13, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

LOL. I think it's league parity the officials want, but the Skins do quite the job at league parody. Nice pun if that was what you meant!

Posted by: smshadowman | December 13, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Im glad somebody else noticed that there was a fifth down. i went back and rewound my dvr to see and sure enough we had five downs at the end of the game. we still could not win the game. this team never ceases to dissapoint me. 25 year redskins fan

Posted by: davidkwill | December 13, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Im glad somebody else noticed that there was a fifth down. i went back and rewound my dvr to see and sure enough we had five downs at the end of the game. we still could not win the game. this team never ceases to dissapoint me. 25 year redskins fan

Posted by: davidkwill | December 13, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Im glad somebody else noticed that there was a fifth down. i went back and rewound my dvr to see and sure enough we had five downs at the end of the game. we still could not win the game. this team never ceases to dissapoint me. 25 year redskins fan

Posted by: davidkwill | December 13, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Agree with Steinberg on every word of this piece except one. I think it was more like a 1/2 yard shy not 1/3.

Posted by: Barno1 | December 14, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

@MichaelS1 Numerous non-calls against the 'Skins for holds and facemasks? What planet are you on, and what evidence do you have? The non-call on the Orakpo hold was one of the most egregious holds I've ever seen, I mean the guy was in a straight up head lock. I guess it's easier to be lucky than good, because between Freeman's non-touchdown and Armstrong being called down after he went in the end zone untouched, The Redskins were really up by two TD's.

Posted by: marquis79 | December 14, 2010 7:20 AM | Report abuse

Well, Dan, you just took a relatively simple mistake and made it impossibly confusing. Have another drink, dipshhit.

Posted by: pooftah2 | December 14, 2010 8:51 AM | Report abuse

It was five downs for one simple reason: the pass to Armstrong happened on first down, as in first and ten. From the photo, we know that this play began from the 12, so either the ball or the first down marker was misplaced.

Sadly, I had Tampa -3 points.

Posted by: Senjata | December 14, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

When I saw all of this on TV on Sunday, I knew the error had to be with Fox. There is no possible way there could be a fifth down in the NFL today. Many more people than just the chain crew are keeping the down, some of them have the ear of the head coach, who would run out into the field screaming if a fifth down were set up for.

Five is right out.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | December 14, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I have to disagree with your reasoning that missing a "blatant holding" is worse than a 9 yard first down.
The issue is that all officials were culprits in this fiasco! Not only did they misplace a marker but no one realized it! This is a mistake that involves the very core of the rules and regulations of the game. A missed penalty or a bad penalty is part of the human factor involved in calling the game and usually only involves 1 or maybe 2 officials. This situation was a "blatant" disregard by all officials for the rules!
Neither the officials on the field, nor the linesmen, nor the replay officials caught this one (even though the Redskins called time out and there was ample time to measure or review the spot)!
The real question should be why was this allowed to occur?

Posted by: jc-lr | December 15, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

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