ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jeff Fisher had the end game mapped out. Let the clock run down to the two-minute warning, then send Steven Jackson off tackle to burn more time, before kicking the go-ahead field goal
Then he watched the clock, frozen at 2:38 for several seconds, as the 40-second play clock wound down.
The NFL has admitted that a mistake by the clock operator in Sunday’s last-second loss at Detroit basically gave the Lions an extra timeout. Perhaps they still would have won, but it certainly would have changed how the finish played out.
“In essence, Detroit was granted an extra timeout, I guess, if you want to look at it from our perspective,” Fisher said Monday.
“There was an error, I did report it to the league, and that’s all I can do.”
The league office agreed. It’s just a bit of consolation for a team coming off a two-win season that took the Lions to the wire on the road in their opening 27-23 loss.
Fisher said he didn’t replay the events endlessly overnight, mentioning several other potential turning points.
“There’s a lot of areas on the tape and film where we’re a play away,” Fisher said. “You make a play here, you make a play there, you have a chance to win the ballgame.”
After the league’s weekly review of game tape, Greg Aiello, the NFLs senior vice president of communications, said the clock was stopped incorrectly.
“The officials did not signal for it to stop,” Aiello said in an email to The Associated Press. “The game clock was three seconds behind where it should have been. …. The game clock stopped incorrectly for a few seconds.”
The clock issue did not come at Lions coach Jim Schwartz’ media briefing Monday.
Fisher has served on the NFL competition committee since 2000 and was co-chairman for many of those years, so he knows the rule book. Fisher said the mistake was “correctable on the field,” but added timing issues were not reviewable.
Fisher was careful not to criticize replacement officials, saying clock operation was unrelated to on-field operations.
“This is clock operator error,” Fisher said.
The 40-second time clock started three or four seconds before the game clock resumed after quarterback Sam Bradford slid for a 3-yard gain close to the sideline. Fisher anticipated he could let the clock run to the two-minute warning, but instead had to call timeout with 2:03 to go with the play clock about to expire.
The clock operator may have anticipated Bradford’s slide taking him out of bounds, but Fisher pointed out that none of the officials called for the clock the stop.
“The issue is the 40-second clock started and then the game clock froze, and the 40-second clock got ahead of the game so I couldn’t run it down.”
The Rams were set to run on third down after the two-minute warning, forcing the Lions to use their final timeout.
“Of course we’re going to run it because we know we’re in field goal range at that point. And coach Schwartz has a choice whether he lets it run down or uses the timeout,” Fisher said. “And I would assume he would use the timeout immediately, and therefore he wouldn’t have a timeout going into his two-minute drive.”
Lions coach Jim Schwartz is a former Fisher assistant.
“Knowing Jimmy … any coach would use their last timeout there,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to conserve time.”
Instead, Bradford threw an incompletion and Greg Zuerlein kicked a go-ahead 46-yard field goal the first play after the two-minute warning.
The Lions had 1:55 to work with on their final drive, running nine plays with time to spare. Stafford completed three passes over the middle, and Detroit used its final timeout with 35 seconds to go on a drive capped by Kevin Smith’s 5-yard touchdown catch with 10 seconds to go.
Starting the final possession with 1:55 or less remaining and no timeouts and with 80 yards to go, Stafford would have had to work the sideline to conserve time.