Officials' Ruling Irks Childress

The Vikings had just gained some momentum early in the fourth quarter after a touchdown to cut the Redskins' lead to 25-14, but how the officials handled a quick snap and ensuing challenge raised the ire of Vikings coach Brad Childress and left the players confused.

Sometimes one play can make all the difference in the outcome of a game. We'll never know if a set of officials' actions during one play would have made a game-changing difference in the Vikings 32-21 loss to the Washington Redskins, but it was a hot topic at Brad Childress' postgame press conference on Sunday night.

The setting: The Vikings had just scored a touchdown with 10:18 to play in the game to cut the deficit to 25-14. The sellout crowd was turning the Metrodome into a playoff atmosphere for the first time all game and the Redskins answered by converting a first down with a toe-dragging, 23-yard sideline catch by receiver Santana Moss. The question of whether Moss had both feet in bounds with possession was strong enough that the Vikings were contemplating challenging the reception while the Redskins hurried to the line of scrimmage to get the next play in motion to avoid a challenge on the catch.

In hurry-up mode, Washington ran a fullback off the field and a third wide receiver on, according to Childress, and the Vikings were substituting to their nickel defensive grouping and trying to get defensive tackle Spencer Johnson off the field. The Redskins snapped the ball just before Johnson reached the sideline and Washington fumbled the snap. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams recovered and the Vikings thought they had momentum and the ball near midfield with 8:58 to play … until the Redskins astutely challenged that Minnesota had 12 men on the field.

"We were trying to get our guy off and go to our nickel that we matched their personnel with and so they challenged the 12 on the field, but in fact they subbed people in. And within the rules, you have the ability, as you saw at the end of the game, to allow us to get on the field and match," Childress said. "They ran up, they snapped the football and turned the football over to us, so I'm very disappointed about that, that that wasn't caught, particularly when you have stills of what the play was before that, what the personnel was, and then what they had on the field there when the turnover occurred. It's very disappointing – very, very disappointing. I just want to know what the rule is. Call it like you tell me it's written down."

For his part, Johnson said he should have better known the situation.

"I should have been more aware. I should have used a little bit more speed and got off the field," Johnson said. "I could have gotten off. Like I said, I had my back turned to the play."

A number of offensive and defensive players alike didn't even know after the game exactly what had happened. All they knew was that the Redskins fumbled, the Vikings recovered, but Washington still ended up with the football.

Others, even 14-year veterans, didn't know that play could even be challenged.

"I have never seen it. There's a first time for everything. I think we are starting to see a lot of things we haven't seen. I think we did have 12 guys on the field. I just never knew you could challenge a penalty," fullback Tony Richardson said. "If that's the case, you might as well throw a flag and say it was pass interference and challenge that as well."

"I didn't think that they could challenge a play like that," said Williams, who lost out on the fumble recovery. "It happened. They got it and it ended up being a key part in the game."

Childress didn't dispute that the Vikings had 12 men on the field. But he was adamant that the officials should allow the defense time to get their personnel on the field as well.

"It should have gotten slowed down, allowed us to match their personnel, get our guy off because they, in fact, brought more people on the field and then we had our nickel people on there," Childress said, citing an instance with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 that he believed had clarified the issue with officials and teams throughout the league.

"I've never seen it like that. I've never seen it lose a possession, and particularly when it's an area of emphasis, it's a point of emphasis, that if this is what's going to happen – and it happened again last year with Tony (Dungy) and the Jets, trying to run on a substitute. We had a long discussion about it, and I just want to see it be even-handed. That's all I want to see. There was a change of possession; it happened at the 50-yard line where the ball is ours and momentum swings. Did we have 12 on? We did, but they changed personnel, and the video is going to show that, and that's irritating as hell."

Another irritant to Childress was that the challenge came on a play when no flag was originally thrown. He admitted 12 men on the field is a challengeable play, but in a game critical to two teams' playoff hopes, he wanted to see the officials make the correct call and moreover be marking the substitution patterns.

Childress said he tried to show still pictures to the officials that conclusively showed the Redskins had a fullback in the game during the pass to Moss and then substituted a wide receiver for the fullback before the fumbled snap. But, he said the officials "didn't want to look at it."

The flow of the play and how the officials should react to substitutions is not something Childress could have challenged, he said.

"They need to get it at the beginning of the play and see what's going on in the context of the football game and realize that there was a substitution change. From that sideline, they changed personnel. Whoever is in charge of noting that needs to note that and needs to note that we also changed personnel with them and we're trying to get our guy off the field," Childress said. "It was clear what the intent was; it was to get up because there was a challengeable call and snap it quick. Most of the time when that happens, people stay in the same personnel grouping. They didn't; we matched with them and we got caught with 12 men on the football field.

"My understanding of the rule and all the memos I've gotten on that rule specifically, point of emphasis, is that they have to give you time to match personnel. And the fact that there wasn't a flag on the field for having 12 people, so somebody likewise, with the guy coming up on our side, has to drop a flag. There was not a flag, so let's get it right, that's all. It cost a change in possession and it cost momentum in a big football game, and it's damn disappointing when it's a point of emphasis."

Players admitted that the incredible swing of momentum from that one ruling was deflating.

"It took away such a big play in a critical part of the game. I still do not really know what happened," linebacker Ben Leber said. "Some guys did not even know that they were going hurry-up and so guys were running around trying to figure out what was going on. Next thing you know it feels like we have the ball. I don't know. Until we look at it I really do not know what happened."

"We were at a real high at the moment and then it kind of took a little air back out of us," Johnson said. "Then they got a first down and went on to score. I know it was a big play in the game, but it shouldn't have come to that point."

One caveat to the whole situation: If the officials had slowed down the quick snap due to the personnel change, the Redskins might not have been in such a hurry and fumbled the snap, but we'll never know that or just how much the situation really affected the outcome of the game.

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