NFL admits clock error in 49ers-Rams game

By Kyle Bonagura | CBSSports.com
Rams QB Sam Bradford wasn't the only one confused by what the officials were doing on Sunday. (AP)

The NFL released a statement Monday admitting 79 seconds of game clock inadvertantly ran off in the second quarter of San Francisco's 24-24 tie with St. Louis.

To most watching the game, it was pretty obvious what was unfolding. Line judge Ron Marinucci blew his whistle and waved for the clock to stop with 13:32 remaining so the officials could measure for a first down. Except, it didn't stop.

The clock stopped at 12:20 and ran down for an additional seven seconds after it was determined the 49ers were a yard shy of a first down. Briefly, it looked like they would get it corrected.

Then came an inaccurate announcement from referee Clete Blakeman who said: “The game clock is correct. Fourth and short."

In its statement, the NFL said Marinucci spoke with the clock operator from the sideline phone and was told there was no error.

[Video: Here is the sequence on NFL.com]

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion on the next play while picking up the first down.

It's impossible to determine how the error affected the rest of the game, but here's an attempt anyway:

Play calling could have been affected over the final four minutes of the half, but for the sake of simplicity, let's start with 2:42 left when the Rams took over at their own 20. Three passes, one 5-yard penalty, no first downs and a 13-yard punt.

With a concussed Smith on the sideline, QB Colin Kaepernick was in for San Francisco when it took over at the St. Louis 40 with 2:12 left. He three threw straight incompletions and the 49ers punted.

Considering the field position and amount of time on the clock, it's a fair assumption to say play calling wouldn't have been affected much at that point, if at all.

St. Louis took over at its 4-yard line with 1:45 left and appeared to have been forced into a three-and-out. San Francisco called a pair of time outs while the Rams had the ball, including one with 49 seconds left before the upcoming fourth-down play. With no timeouts remaining, the 49ers figured their best chance at getting points before the half was with a blocked punt.

Except when the 49ers brought in the guy they had set to block the outside gunner, St. Louis checked to a fake and picked up a first down.

"When you run the rush that we run. Yeah, you understand that they could do exactly what they did," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And you don't expect them to. You're rolling the dice that they won't do it as far backed up as they are coming off their own 8-yard line."

If there had been an additonal 79 seconds on the clock, would the 49ers have called for the punt block? Probably not.

Could either team have scored with the additional time? Maybe, but then again, they had 15 minutes in OT and that wasn't enough.

Here is the official statement/explanation from the NFL:

Early in the second quarter of Sunday's game between the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers, the clock incorrectly ran for approximately 1:19 and was never corrected.

With 13:40 remaining in the second quarter, San Francisco faced a 3rd-and-15 from their own 38 yard-line. Quarterback Alex Smith completed a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who went out of bounds at the St. Louis 48 after a gain of 14 yards. Line judge Ron Marinucci blew his whistle and signaled for the clock to be stopped, which it was with 13:32 remaining.

While the chains were being brought onto the field for a measurement – and despite no official having signaled for the clock to start – the clock ran down until it was again stopped with 12:20 remaining.

The ball was short of the line to gain for a first down, so once the ball was spotted and ready for play, referee Clete Blakeman blew his whistle and signaled for the clock to start. It then wound down for seven seconds to 12:13 when the officials signaled for the clock to stop.

Blakeman then conferred with line judge Ron Marinucci and field judge Buddy Horton and announced “we are checking the game clock for accuracy.”

Marinucci – who as the line judge is by rule responsible for the timing of the game – spoke directly to the clock operator from the sideline phone and was told that there was no issue with the game clock.

He relayed this information to Blakeman who then announced “the game clock is correct. Fourth and short.” Blakeman blew his whistle and signaled for the game clock – still at 12:13 – to start.

The next snap occurred with 12:02 remaining in the second quarter.

No member of the officiating crew recognized that the clock was incorrectly started by the clock operator during the measurement. Once the next snap occurs, there is no mechanism to adjust the clock. Matters of timing are not reviewable by instant replay.

The clock operator is employed by the Officiating Department at the league office. The clock procedures will be carefully reviewed this week with all game officials and clock operators to avoid further clock mistakes.

Follow 49ers reporter Kyle Bonagura on Twitter @CBS49ers and @KyleBonagura.

 
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