Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

26 Sep 2005

Clock Error Helped Patriots Beat Steelers

How did no one notice this? The officials and the stadium clock manager screwed up the timing of the beginning of the fourth quarter, adding 52 seconds that the Patriots put to good use at the end of the game. Obviously, we have no way of knowing what strategic changes either team would have made if the clock had been set properly, but it's eye-opening to see that a mistake like this can happen and no one notices until a day later.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 26 Sep 2005

38 comments, Last at 27 Sep 2005, 12:24pm by patsagain?


by andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:23pm

You realize the implication of this?

The DVOAs are gonna be screwed up now. We'll have to multiply all stats for this game by... lessee....

normal game = 3600 seconds, this game = 3652 seconds...




by Adam (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:23pm

I was at the game and I admit that I didn't notice it but the kid sitting next to me that was three sheets to the wind noticed it. His exact qoute was:


My question is this:

How does drunk guy in section 522 notice it but no one of any importance does? No disrespect to drunk guy in section 522......

by Kachunk (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:26pm

That's a fairly big error in a game as clock-centric as football. What do they do in cases like this? Do they just write it off--oh well, we screwed up? I really don't see what they can do otherwise...they can't replay the game, they can't "correct" the result of the game, because no one knows what it would have been, although it certainly seems that the Steelers would have been more likely to win.

Must be very frustrating for the Steelers.

by Adam (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:29pm

I remember back in 2000 the Steelers had a string of like 3 straight games where they lost by like, 6 points or less, and in each game the NFL had issued an appology to the Steelers for blown calls.

I think the most glaring one was a missed penalty on an onside kick that Philadelphia got in a come from behind win.

They missed the playoffs by one game.

If the game we're being played in New England.......We'd be marching up to foxboro with torches and swords.

Since the games in Pittsburgh......the clock operator will be banished to hell. Aka. Baltimore.

by internet retard (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:33pm

OMG the NFL is rigged Tagliabue knew if he put more time on the clock then Tom Brady and the Refs would pull it out!!!!!!!!!!!!!

by B (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:34pm

Didn't the extra 50 seconds also benefit the Steelers on thier last drive? With one less minute of time, would the Steelers have ran thier offense the same way and saved two timeouts?

by Carl (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:40pm

The extra 50 seconds prove, conclusively, that Peyton is better than Brady.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:45pm


That is absolutely incorrect. Brady knew that he was going to need a little extra time to get down the field, so he meditated on it and so it was. Remember, it is the intangibles like this that make a great QB.

by ABW (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:46pm

Wow. That really sucks. I guess B is right, it probably helped the Steelers too, and you gotta play the whole game, all 60 minutes or 60 minutes and 52 seconds, but it still sucks. That's a pretty big #*$&#$ up right there.

Seems like the league should have been able to make something like keeping the clock nearly automatic by this point, but I guess there will always be bad calls and missed penalties and clock screw ups. It's all part of the game, right?

by Carl (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:48pm

At this point, Os, I'm persuaded that divine intervention guided the clock's hands to part, leaving 50 seconds still to play.

That's why Brady, ultimately, is better than Peyton. He has G-d on his sideline.

by Vern (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:51pm

For the record, the Patriots were at the Steelers 31 yard line with 57 seconds left and the clock stopped. Subtract 52 and it means 5 seconds would have been left, possibly time for one more play to the sidelines. But if not, Vinatieri gets a shot from 48 (remember SB 36?)

Given the extra 52, the Pats actually ran Dillon up the middle to EAT clock. Then the throw to Givens after which they'd didn't spike it, just so the Steelers wouldn't get it back.

See the official game book linked.

I don't know why there's this obession with the ESPN types against the Pats. Bayless earlier today said the whole reason the Steeler lost was the lateral. At this point, I'm used to national media making excuses for why yet another "better" team lost to the Pats "system".

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:52pm

Write it down. 9/26/05 @ 7:50 EST. This is the first time anyone actually changed their opinion due to posted conversations on a messageboard. (albeit in jest)

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 8:52pm

This is really a non-issue in my opinion. The play-calling would have been completely different on both sides had there been 52 fewer seconds later in the game, so who really knows how the outcome might have changed (if at all) Now, if there'd been 52 seconds added on in the final two minutes then that would have been a big deal.
A final question to illustrate the point: if this had any impact on the outcome of the game, if it was a big deal at all, then how come no players or coaches even noticed it?

by SLB1 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:05pm

The "Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome" governs this issue, in my opinion.

The Men of Steel Shall Rise Again!

by MCS (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:05pm

I say they both get credited a tie.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:07pm

I'm with #13 - this is much ado about nothing. Both teams would have changed their play calling slightly, but I can't see this as affecting one team more than the other.

by Oswlek (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:14pm

I don't know what "The Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome� is, but IMHO the Steelers were helped more by adding time than the Pats.

by SLB1 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:19pm

The "Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome" says that statements like "the Steelers benefitted more than the Patriots" are without any basis. Had the clock been properly set, all we know is that the game would have been different, but you can't say one way or another what would have happened unless you have a crystal ball.

I think most people would agree (and I'm a Steelers fan) that the Pats deserved to win and the clock thing is not a deciding (or maybe even relevant) factor.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:26pm

Alright, I'll own up. I had a feeling the Pats would need another 52 sec or so, so I hacked into the scoreboard main frame and reset the clock. I timed it right when that fat chick in 513 was lifting up her top. I guess that drunk kid didn't see her. Anyway, why, you ask? Hey I am a hardcore Eagles fan but, I live in central Pa. which means I hate the obnoxious Steelers fans around here much more than the few (yet vocal) Patsies here abouts. In summary, take that suckers Bwahahahahaha!

by Balaji (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:45pm

#4, Adam: "I remember back in 2000 the Steelers had a string of like 3 straight games where they lost by like, 6 points or less, and in each game the NFL had issued an appology to the Steelers for blown calls."

Oh man, I thought I was the only one who remembered the infamous letters of apology. That's right up there with "I said tails!".

by Purds (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 9:52pm

It's all part of that vast right-wing conspiracy Hilary Clinton first exposed a few years ago. Wait, to benefit New England, that would have to be a LEFT-wing conspiracy. Never mind....

by LnGrrrR (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 10:00pm

Seriously...you all are too much :D

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 10:17pm

The error occurred after the second play of the 4th quarter. At that point, teams generally run off about 35 seconds between plays. Which means that this extra 52 seconds added a total of (at most) 2 plays to the game. Wow.

Honestly, this is a big mistake, but I can't believe it affected the outcome of the game at all. If the mistake had been made with a minute left, when the clock is a serious consideration, then yeah, I would say it made a big difference (and would have been noticed by about 17 million people, including everyone in the stadium). But at the time it was made, nobody was watching the clock (obviously), so how important could it have been?

by Sid (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 10:23pm

The clock operators - there are two, one for the game clock and the other for the play clock - are locally based but hired by the league. The Steelers did not identify them, and they are not listed with the other officials on the league's statistical report.

First the tuck rule, and now this...

by Björn (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 10:32pm

RE: #19

Can you hack into the Monday Night Football runningback mainframe and switch Priest Holmes/Larry Johnson with Quentin Griffin/Tatum Bell? I'm getting a tad concerned.

by tim (not verified) :: Mon, 09/26/2005 - 10:46pm

the steelers lost because they played sloppily, allowed randle el their confidence, and panicked into prevent defense mode near the end game. 50 sec at the beginning of the 4th quarter meant nothing because the steeler drive stalled and had to punt anyway.

by RowdyRoddyPiper (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 12:00am

As a die hard Steeler fan, I'd like to believe this had any impact on the outcome. Unfortunately poor line play on both sides of the ball totally swamps this effect. Though the point that it took a day for anyone to notice is well taken. It's a pretty obvious thing, but just about everyone missed it. Unlike Moss interfering with short CBs in the endzone. That's rather subtle, but no one seems to miss it.

by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 2:12am

AHAHAHAHAHA! Here I thought that all the Pats fans had learned that the media fawns over their team like none other, and there's one right on my doorstep! My hat, Vern, is off to you! Does King have to devote all five pages of MMQB to how great the Patriots are for you to be happy? Is 3 not enough?

I don't agree with Bayless. The Steelers lost, amazingly, because of bad defensive calls. They stopped using the very effective safety blitz. However, that's my opinion. Almost all of the people I've talked to today (around school and later court) told me that they were convinced that the Steelers lost because of the lateral. You probably could make a persuasive argument about it. Just not to me.

And anyway, saying that the Steelers lost because of the lateral doesn't even say anything the patriots unless you're absolutely convinced this game established, unarguably, that the Patriots are better than the Steelers. Good luck finding anyone willing to take that position. "Team x lost to team y because they shot themselves in the foot" doesn't mean that team y is worse, or even that team x is better, because after all, team x shot themselves in the foot! What kind of compliment is that? Seems like an argument for a wash.

Also: How the ^$#@^ did we all miss a 50-second error? Maybe we were all just too focused on the play....

by Judy B. (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 2:13am

Time of possession: NE 35:23, Pit 24:37.
Okay, where did the extra 52 seconds go?

by David (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 2:43am

Judy -

The extra 52 seconds were taken up by a play the Steelers ran - a reverse to Cedrick Wilson - that was negated by a false-start penalty that the players didn't notice before the snap. However, under the rules, by snapping the ball when a penalty had already been called, the Steelers forfeited any time their play took. One of the officials forgot this and reset the clock after the penalty was resolved, effectively adding 52 seconds to the game.

by David (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 2:44am

In other words, the extra time wasn't recorded as game time, but should have been. That's why it doesn't show up on the time of posession.

by Vlad (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 9:03am

"I think the most glaring one was a missed penalty on an onside kick that Philadelphia got in a come from behind win."

My personal favorite was the '12 men on the field' penalty where the official miscounted the number of men on the field. The paper the next day had a great picture of Cowher pointing to an aerial photo (probably a screencap from the TV feed) that clearly showed only 11 defenders. Sigh.

by princeton73 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 11:29am

However, under the rules, by snapping the ball when a penalty had already been called, the Steelers forfeited any time their play took

since when?--on a false start penalty, the play never occurred in the first place, so 14:51 is correct;

if it was illegal motion, or holding or any other offensive penalty, what you say is correct

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 11:40am

#33 - The problem is that there was a play run at 14:51 with no penalty, then the false start penalty occurred. The clock was reset to the time before the prior completed play.

by Theo (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 11:43am

With only 2 seconds on the clock in the AFC Finale, with his only carry of the game, Jerome Bettis will run it in from the one. Sending himself and the Steelers to Super Bowl XL.
Ending the Kansas City season of dreams.
Ye Gods!

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 11:49am

52 seconds is about as much difference in the game as if a player had happend to run out of bounds at one point early in the 4th instead of staying in bounds.

by Carl (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 11:49am

From the Pittsburgh Trib's story:

"There are two clock operators in the booth, one who runs the play clock and one who runs the game clock. Both are local men assigned by the NFL. Lou Rossi had been running the game clock at Steelers games since the opening of Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, but he hasn't been feeling well and was replaced for Sunday's game. The Steelers did not reveal the name of his replacement"

I suspect Patriot malfeasance! Why was Lou Rossi sick? Who was the replacement?

"Charles 'Ace' Heberling, who observes and reports on NFL officials at Steelers home games in a league-appointed position, said an NFL employee in New York called the Steelers press box immediately after witnessing the error on the TV feed. Heberling and John Grier, the supervisor of officials who also was in the press box, quickly checked with the statistician."

And what was the answer?

"According to his sheet, there was no problem with the clock," Heberling said.

This is a cover up, my friends, most likely involving the Pentagon, Trilateral Commission, Rand Corp., UFOs and Tedy Bruschi!

And you know the Cowboys are in there, somewhere. And Al Davis!

How can the NFL expect Cowher to dick up the clock management of an extra 52 seconds if they won't give it to him?

I want these questions answered!

by patsagain? (not verified) :: Tue, 09/27/2005 - 12:24pm

The way I see it with the "extra 52 seconds", the steelers tied the game at the end of regulation, and the Pats only needed 51 seconds in Overtime to get within kicking range. Seeing how the OT rules are kinda lame, the steelers had a 50/50 chance of never seing the ball in OT anyway.