One play before Justin Tucker broke an NFL record and broke Detroit Lions hearts with one mighty swing of his right leg, Lamar Jackson stood in the shotgun, with the game clock at 0:07, and the play clock at ... :00.
With the ball at the Lions' 48-yard line, from which Tucker would ultimately kick a 66-yard game-winning field goal, the play clock seemed to expire.
The Justin Tucker game-winning kick from 66 yards never should have happened. According to CBS broadcast graphic, this should have been a delay of game on Baltimore on the play before the field goal. #Lions #Ravens pic.twitter.com/YnVOuC3KXX
— Jonathan Deutsch (@JonathanD_TV) September 26, 2021
A delay-of-game penalty would have cost the Ravens 5 yards, and turned Tucker's 66-yarder into an even more improbable 71-yarder. Instead, it wasn't called.
When asked about the no-call postgame, Lions coach Dan Campbell said, with a shake of his head: "Yeah, there's nothing I can say to that. ...Tomorrow you'll get an apology [from the league], and it doesn't mean anything. That's life."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, speaking at his own postgame news conference, argued "that's not gonna be delay of game," because "there's always leeway on that." He was referring to the refereeing mechanics behind delay-of-game calls. As former NFL official Terry McAulay explained to Yahoo Sports, the back judge must monitor both the snap and play clock. They will blow their whistle and throw a flag only if they see the clock strike zero, shift their focus back to the ball and see it still un-snapped.
"There is a built-in delay," said McAulay, who worked NFL games for two decades.
"But," McAulay continued, "that timeframe is normally around .5 seconds, plus or minus a couple tenths of a second. There really is no situation where it should be more than 1 second."
On Sunday, there were roughly 1.4 seconds between play clock expiration and the Ravens' snap.
"That's an extended period of time," former NFL ref Gene Steratore said on CBS's postgame show. "That feels to me like it's longer than the normal progression of giving that offense that extra fraction of a second or full second."
"This," McAulay said, "clearly should have been a foul for delay of game."
Referee Scott Novak, whose crew worked Sunday's game at Ford Field, told Justin Rodgers of the Detroit News that he hadn't yet reviewed the play, but that he was confident the back judge was in position to properly monitor the play clock. Novak raised the possibility there could have been a discrepancy between the in-stadium play clock and the one shown to viewers on TV.
“I don’t know if they’re synced up or not," Novak said.
Replays, however, showed that the clocks were more or less in sync. McAulay, who now works as an analyst for NBC, said a discrepancy is "highly unlikely these days."
And Steratore said there is no merit to the thought that officials would ignore the delay because it came at such a high-stakes moment in the game.
"No," Steratore said. "You don't even have that thought."
Jeff Triplette, another longtime NFL official, spotted a potential explanation for the missed call: Lions defensive lineman Michael Brockers lined up directly over the ball.
"This could have certainly blocked the view of the [back judge]," Triplette told Yahoo Sports. That, Triplette said, "could make it take a moment or more longer" for the back judge to look down from the play clock to the center, determine that the ball hadn't been snapped, and throw a flag.