On Monday, the NFL admitted to an error at the end of the Redskins-Giants game Sunday night in which Washington believed they had earned a first down only to have referee Jeff Triplette overturn the decision after the team had already run a play.
The NFL said that head linesman Phil McKinnely "incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains" after Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon caught a second down pass from quarterback Robert Griffin III with just less than two minutes to go in the game. Although the ball appeared to be short of the first down marker, the crew moved the chains and flipped the marker to first down. Thinking they had earned a fresh set of downs, the Redskins ran a pass play that fell incomplete, bringing up what Washington coaches believed was second down, but was in fact fourth. On the fourth down play, Garcon caught a pass past the first-down marker but was stripped of the ball by Giants safety Will Hill, which sealed New York’s win.
Following the game, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said that he asked for a measurement following Garcon’s catch on second down but was told that it wasn’t needed.
"He said, 'You don't have to, it's a first down,'" Shanahan said of an official’s response when he asked for a measurement. "I saw it as a first down on the other side, and he signaled to move the chains on our side. I asked him if it was third down. He said he already told me it was a first down. ... After I saw it was fourth down, I asked him, 'You already told me it was first down.' That was quite disappointing."
Triplette, however, told a pool reporter that despite that chains being moved, the crew had indicated that the play was third down.
“We signaled third down on the field. The stakes were moved incorrectly. After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The chains just got moved incorrectly,” Triplette said.
The NFL weighed in on the matter on Monday with a statement that seemed to indicate an error among the officiating crew in the game:
"With 2:00 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, Washington faced a second-and-5 from its own 41-yard line with no timeouts remaining. Quarterback Robert Griffin III completed a pass to wide receiver Pierre Garcon for four yards. The ball was correctly spotted shy of the Washington 46, bringing up third down.
"Referee Jeff Triplette signaled third down but the head linesman — with Washington in a 'hurry-up' situation — incorrectly motioned for the chain crew to advance the chains, which caused the down boxes to read first down.
"Following a Washington incomplete pass, the chains were moved back and the down boxes correctly reset to fourth 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. This should have occurred regardless of the fact that Washington had no timeouts and it was inside two minutes.
"Only the referee can rule and signal a first down. The official nearest to the down markers and chain crew, the head linesman, must wait for the first down signal from the referee before moving the chains.
"Instant Replay did not become involved in this situation because the replay official determined that the ball on Garcon's catch was correctly spotted short of the line to gain for a first down."
The admission of the error comes at a bad time for the NFL, which has seen a series of controversial calls affect the outcome of games in recent weeks, from a penalty flag on a hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees that lead to a game-tying field goal against the 49ers to a pass interference flag that was picked up on the final play of the New England-Carolina game two weeks ago.