My final look at “Scoreboard Gate” in New England

January 25, 2012 | Drew Forrester

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start.

No amount of review or second-guessing or playing the blame-game will EVER change what happened in the final 25 seconds of Sunday’s AFC title game.

In fact, they can play 5,000 more NFL games and the events that transpired at the conclusion of Sunday’s game won’t ever happen again.

A wide receiver won’t fumble the ball on his way to the ground and have it bounce out of bounds close enough to the first down marker that players on one team will bark at the refs that a first down should be awarded.  (This, of course, happened to the Ravens on Sunday.  When Anquan Boldin fumbled the ball as he went down at the 14 yard line, a handful of Ravens players pleaded for a first down, temporarily confusing the side judge who, like the players, must have forgot that you can’t fumble a ball forward and earn the yards-of-progress.)

The scoreboard temporarily clicked over to “DOWN: 1” after that play, which satisfied the Ravens players who were asking for a first down.  (The head referee, it should be noted, never signaled first down and the sideline markers stayed on 2nd down when Boldin came up short of the first down.)

At some point during that 20-second span – before the 2nd down throw to Lee Evans in the end zone – Billy Cundiff started preparing for his potential game-tying kick.  He THOUGHT he had at least two more plays to prepare for his kick, so he continued with his usual routine.  The need for a field goal was almost not necessary, but Evans was unable to hold on to Flacco’s throw long enough despite the fact that for about 7/10th’s of a second, it appeared as if Baltimore was heading to the Super Bowl.

What happened next also changed the fortunes of not only Cundiff, but the Ravens themselves and their chances to advance to the Super Bowl.  It’s not Joe Flacco’s fault, per-se.  It’s just the way it went.  On the 3rd down throw (with the scoreboard still reading, “DOWN: 2”), Flacco could have easily scampered a couple of yards for a first down.  By virtue of the replay, it would appear he could have probably advanced as close as the 9 or 10 yard line.  Had Flacco run the ball – instead of throwing an incompletion to Dennis Pitta – he would have needed to call a time-out once he was tackled and the play ended.  If Joe would have run there, the entire sequence of events involving Cundiff would have been different.  But he didn’t.  And they weren’t.

If, If, If…

With Flacco’s incomplete pass to Pitta, it was 4th down.

Except Billy Cundiff thought it was 3rd down.  Because that’s what the scoreboard read.  It was only as he was roughly at about the 40 yard line running toward the spot of the kick where the board flipped from “DOWN: 3” to “DOWN: 4”.

The rest, of course, is history.

Seconds later, Cundiff pulled the 32-yard wildly left of the goalposts and that was that.

The obvious question everyone around Baltimore is asking is this:  Why didn’t someone call time-out at the end of the game?

Here’s the easy answer:  No one REALLY thought a time-out was completely necessary.

But there’s a lot more to it than that.  And there’s no way you can appreciate what “more” that it is unless you’ve ever been on the field or, at the very least, on the sideline during a game.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in the stadium watching it live.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the 3rd row behind the bench.  In order to appreciate what kind of bedlam the coaches and players are dealing with on the field, you have to be there.

I’ve been down on the field a lot — or, on the sideline, specifically — and it’s absolute mayhem down there.  Frankly, it’s a little TOO crazy, for my money.  Everyone is yelling – at someone, either another player, a guy on the other team, or the refs – and the crowd is roaring and it’s almost impossible to hear yourself think, let alone communicate.

Please understand this and don’t take offense, although you probably will anyway.  Watching the game on TV – and, even, in the stands – is absolutely NOTHING AT ALL like being on the sideline during play.  You’re as disconnected watching the game on TV as you are watching Bocelli sing at a concert and thinking to yourself, “I sing in the choir at church.  I mean, this guy is good, and all, but I could probably sing the song he’s singing right now.”

The sideline of an NFL game is nuts.  Too much so, I think.

In the moments prior to Cundiff’s kick, John Harbaugh wasn’t aware of the confusion surrounding his kicker and the scoreboard, because he was down near the 20-yard line watching his team try and get in the end zone and earn a trip to Indianapolis.  He employs someone (Jerry Rosburg) to maintain in-game supervision of the special teams units.  Harbaugh can’t be chasing Billy Cundiff around — or Sam Koch — because he has a football game to monitor.  That’s why Rosburg is there.

So, given his duties, Rosburg was the guy in charge of getting the field goal unit ready on Sunday.  On 2nd down (which, of course, Cundiff thought was 1st down), he glanced over to the sideline and saw Cundiff doing “shadow kicking” and was comfortable with the fact that his kicker was preparing to enter the game.  What he didn’t know is that Cundiff wasn’t ready to enter the field in the next 20 seconds because he thought it was only 2nd down, not 3rd. (Please see next page)