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The Call That Broke the Redskins’ Back

By Scott Hurrey | November 2nd, 2004

The Redskins lost another heart breaker this weekend; another game in which the defense kept the offense within striking distance, only to fall short in the end. This game was the ultimate season-killer though. The Redskins took the lead for the first time in the game and broke the 20-point threshold for the first time all season, only to have the game taken away and carefully placed in the swollen hand of Brett Favre by the line judge. The Redskins offense had finally come alive, but the life was plausibly sucked out of FedEx Field by a little yellow flag.

James Thrash, the Redskins’ third string wide receiver went into motion from left to right, before settling in next to Chris Cooley on the line of scrimmage. The ball was snapped and Mark Brunell hit Clinton Portis over the middle. Portis shed a would-be tackler, ran up field and dove into the end zone. It was a beautifully play, in both design and execution. As the team, the stadium and fans throughout the world celebrated, the all too familiar penalty indicator flashed on the screen. The call was illegal shift on a player that apparently the referees couldn’t identify, as no player was named in the referees public address. James Thrash was the only player in motion, and therefore one can only assume the call was based on his motion.

According to the NFL rule book, the offensive players must meet the following guidelines before the ball is snapped on each play, as it pertains to motion: First, “All players of offensive team must be stationary at snap, except one back who may be in motion parallel to scrimmage line or backward (not forward).” Secondly, “After a shift or huddle all players on offensive team must come to an absolute stop for at least one second with no movement of hands, feet, head, or swaying of body.”

In the official explanation, the head referee stated that the player was in forward motion at the time of the ball being snapped. After careful review of the tape, James Thrash came across and settled in next to Chris Cooley as stated above. He was not moving forward at the time of the ball being snapped. That is completely false, and the tape shows this to be the case.

James Thrash set his feet a split second before the ball was snapped, but he was not set for a full second. So technically, it was a valid call. That being said, how many times have we seen more flagrant penalties ignored at the end of close games in an effort to allow the teams to decide the winner rather than the officials? Thrash did not go out into a receiving pattern and catch the game-winning touchdown. He stayed in and blocked. The outcome of the play was not affected at all by whether or not he was set for a full second or only a split second. The outcome of the game however, was decided on that play — a play that completely deflated the Redskins and fans alike.

The NFL may or may not apologize to the Redskins for the questionable officiating that contributed to another gut wrenching loss in another winnable game. Either way, it is a meaningless gesture. The NFL continues to do nothing to improve officiating. The same league that vowed to call pass interference and defensive holding with much more regularity, has continued to allow clutching and grabbing throughout the league, and especially against the Redskins’ receiving corps. Heck, on the very next play after “The Call”, Rod Gardner was being held by the jersey to the point that his shoulder pad popped out. The “non-call” prevented Gardner from having a shot at breaking up the Al Harris interception. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it is the same Rod Gardner who already has one “official apology” from the NFL for the same “non-call” against the Dallas Cowboys.

The bottom line is that from a technical standpoint, the call was valid – even though it wasn’t valid by the explanation given on the field. There is an unwritten rule in play here that the officials should never decide who wins the game, and in this case, that rule was clearly broken.


Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Scott Hurrey

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