My final look at “Scoreboard Gate” in New England

January 25, 2012 | Drew Forrester

My final look at “Scoreboard Gate” in New England

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)

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20 Comments For This Post

  1. The "Armchair QB" Says:

    Post Mortems don’t change outcomes and are really pointless as a result. Rather than assess blame, Ray Lewis has the right attitude when he says, “We win as a team and we lose as a team”! That being said, when discussing coaching responsibilities in general terms, the “buck stops” with the head coach who bears the responsibilty of either delegating duties or assuming them himself. If, in fact, chaos and confusion on the sidelines is the norm in the NFL, it’s the head coach’s responsibility to see that it’s controlled!

  2. joe of bel air Says:

    Of all the scenarios you described in your blog the one that I keep replaying in my head over and over is the 3rd down incompletion to Pitta, moreso than the Evans strip or the Cundiff shank. I wish that Cam would have called for Joe to roll out, pick up the first down and try to get out of bounds, thus preserving their last timeout. They would have then had 15-18 seconds left and could have tried at least 2 shots into the endzone for the win. Even had Joe been tackled in bounds they could gave called their last timeout and took at least one more shot into the endzone. Why their first concern wasn’t in getting the first down is a mystery to me.

  3. unitastoberry Says:

    Old timers still talk about a field goal that was ruled good in a playoff game between the Baltimore Colts and the Green Bay Packers in 1966.The kick was wide but with the old school goal posts it was hard to tell back then. The next year the league raised the posts to their current level and put 2 officials under them. My point is its a done deal,get over it Billy and move on. Thats sports.

  4. Jim Says:

    I am not on the Cundiff witchhunt or anything… but ask yourself the question. If the AFCC game is only the line next year, and Billy is called out to kick a 42yd FG to win the game, do you have faith he can do it? I don’t b/c he proved that he can’t handle the pressure. PKs and the FG team practice rushing onto the field for a quick FG all the time. 32yd is automatic for an NFL PK. The way he hooked it so badly just proved that the pressure got to him. Love ya Billy… but sorry, gotta move on.

  5. barnyard Says:

    I’m sorry but Evans catch should have been ruled a TD. He came down with the ball, turned his body & a total of two steps were taken in addition to having already crossed the goal line. If this isn’t a catch then last week against the Broncos Gronkowski’s catch shouldn’t have been ruled a TD as he juggled the ball & fell on it essentially trapping the ball. Harbaugh must have had a brain fart Sunday cause as a former special teams coach he should have know exactly what the deal was & called a time out. As for Cundiff, he cost us the game by giving the Patriots good filed position all day long with his sh*tty kickoffs while we were starting every kickoff on the 20yd line. Starting at the 30 40 yard line enabled the Patriots to score more easily with field goals & TD’s. Check it out.

  6. Kevin Says:

    Here is what I walk away with from this game and the season. Joe Flacco is the REAL DEAL and has everything it takes to lead a good TEAM into the Superbowl and win. Watching four top shelf Qbs work on Sunday, if I had to pick one to lead my new expansion team, it would be #5.
    Billy Cundiff did what Billy Cundiff has a habit of doing. He just cannot be depended on to do the job when it really counts. I would not fire him for this miss, I would simply shake hands and bid him good luck based on the body of his NFL career.
    Based on the Season, I see that the Ravens need O line help, another solid pass rusher and maybe an additional stud reciever. Lee Evans was not much help throughout the season, and I think that is his shortcoming. He just does not have what it takes to stay healthy and produce for an entire season. I am not saying cut him, but you cannot go forward believing that next year things will be all that different.
    I’ll end by saying thank you to all of the Ravens and the entire organization for the joy they bring to us in Bmore every fall. God Bless you all and be well.

  7. gc Says:

    kick wouldn’t have mattered if evans was able to hang onto the ball for a touchdown rather than the Pat’s “DB MAKING A GREAT PLAY in the Endzone AND KNOCKING IT AWAY”…..yeah, thats what I thought!!!!

  8. Hodge Says:

    How can the coach of the other team sense the confusion on our bench but our coach can’t ? It was not a perfect storm it is just ANOTHER poorly managed game by our coach. Maybe we can mount that time out on the wall at the Castle.

  9. barnyard Says:

    By the way per your caller this morning, Harbaugh should have addressed the media & public instead of being a weasel & slink out of town. A real lack of leadership & a fairy” move on his part. I’ just lost a lot of respect for him for that move. We all at times have to suck it up & face situations we would rather not at times. I’m not advocating a change but his content of character just dipped on my list. Harbaugh happens to be a decent coach, not a great coach. He has a damm good team & a super GM in Ozzie to thank for his good fortune.

  10. FRANCHISE Says:

    Glen,

    Thank you for the well-written, concise and accurate factual events:

    “The Perfect Storm”—Please blame me for the Ravens AFC Championship Game Loss since I agree these sequence of events will never happen again.—The football gods played a nasty trick on me for prematurely leasing Mayflower Vans prior to the outcome of the AFC championship Game on Sunday…..I RUSHED this transaction to procure Mayflower Vans simply to be prepared for my tailgating extravaganza to the IRSAY Oil Drum Dome for the weekend of February 3-5….Sorry Ravens fans….It was all my fault!!!

    Regards,

    FRANCHISE

    PS—I am now an Ex-Yankee Fan and have become a Baltimore Oriole fan as a virgin sacrafice to the football gods for my request for a second AFC Championship Lamar Hunt Trophy and Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy

  11. FRANCHISE Says:

    My apologies for the opening greeting to Glen—My comment should have been written to Drew and not Glen!!!—-Forgive me, I am still in counseling so I don’t jump from the Delaware Memorial Stadium Bridge!!!

    Franchise

  12. Joe Says:

    Asked on Boston radio station WEEI Monday if he considered calling a timeout to “freeze” Cundiff, Belichick said, “It just seemed to me like they were rushing a little bit. I felt we were better off letting them go, letting them rush and handle it under pressure rather than give them a chance to settle down and get it all lined up properly.”

    Obviously Belichick was able to determine that a timeout might have helped. Of course there is no way to know if it would have helped but at least his is the perspective of a man that has logged much time of the chaotic sidelines you describe. His opinion is not that of the average fan.

  13. Turk Says:

    Crazy ending but did anyone see what I saw. I know about a fumble forward rule and you cant advance the ball. I remember the Raider-SD game that changed that 25 years ago. BUT I RECORDED THE GAME AND HAVE SEEN THE CROSSING PATTERN TO BOLDIN 10 TIMES AND I SWEAR HE GOT TACKLED ON THE 12.5 YARD LINE BEFORE THE FUMBLE CAME OUT AND ROLLED TO THE 8 YD LINE. The refs, confused by the fumble, spotted it back to the 14 yd line – the first down line was exactly the 13. This missed spot caused all the confusion and cost us a fresh set of downs. Noone is talking about this. I will look again tonight but very upset that a ref’s spot may have aided us from losing out on a SB Trip! Just brutal!

  14. Phil Says:

    Well written! Just like all the other impossible finishes we have seen over the years with teams winning and losing in dramatic fashion this game becomes part of the LORE of the NFL…and is also part of the LURE of the NFL. It hurts we lost but this is why we all love the NFL so much. There is nothing like it and as much as we look forward to the playoffs and seeing who’s in who’s out…I lament the end of the regular season. It’s just so entertaining and fun each week. Can’t wait until training camp. We will be back.

  15. Justafan Says:

    I don’t agree with some who say that Billy Cundiff can’t kick a field goal under pressure. The game in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, with the score tied 6-6, he kicked a 50 plus yards field goal on the final play of the first half to give the Ravens a 9-6 lead. As I recall, the Ravens won the game by 3 points.

  16. FRANCHISE Says:

    Turk,

    Please review the tape tonight on your spot comment above on Boldin’s crossing pattern fumble forward to the 8 yaard line….First down is the 13 yard line; tackled at the 12 and 1/2 yard line; officiating crew spotted at the 14 yard line.

    If your analysis is accurate I am going to file a full federal investigation with Congress that the National Fixed League is corrupt!!!

    Regards,

    No Challenge by the Booth upstairs with under 2 minutes remaining in the game to get the spot correct???!!!—”The Perfect FIX”

  17. PghSteve Says:

    I just wonder why the rush? Why not let the clock run down to 3 seconds and call a timeout so that the Pats have no time to even consider a kickoff return or a ‘Hail Mary’ pass after a successful FG? It’s not like the Ravens needed to save a timeout.

  18. PghSteve Says:

    OK, I looked at the tape and see that the play clock was down to around 1-2 seconds when the ball was snapped on the FG try, so running the game clock to 3 seconds would not have worked. Still, why the rush on what was arguably the biggest play of the Ravens almost great season?

  19. Rob Says:

    Drew,
    Thanks for the great read. Coming from a neutral observer, that was a very good impartial look at what transpired.

    Every NFL game has a winner and a loser. Often times the result is decided on a single event or sequence of events tbat lead to an unusual ending, which is what happened here.

    About the only thing I disagree with is when you say it will never happen again. Maybe not this EXACT scenario, but certainly another and possibly even stranger scenario will occur somewhere in the future, when Raven fans have long put this loss in the memories.

  20. steve Says:

    boo hoo!!!!

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