Supplemental material including comments on clock management in recent football games and errata for the book Football Clock Management

These items are in chronological order with the most recent at the top of the page. This page got so big that it began to download too slowly so I broke it into a separate page for various years.

Nebraska-Kansas State

A reader tells me that Kansas State chose to take a knee rather than attempt an extra -point kick at the end of their game with Nebraska. He further states that, as a result of the taking of the knee, one of the announcers at the game accused the Kansas State coach of point shaving. Say what?!

In Football Clock Management, I said that you should not attempt an extra point at the end of a college game if you only have a one- or two-point lead. That's because in college, the defense can run the ball back for a two-point touchdown during an extra point try. (In the NFL and high school, the ball is dead is the PAT fails.) In other words, K State probably did the right thing.

Don't get tackled while taking a safety

On 11/21/98, Notre Dame quarterback suffered a medial collateral ligament injury while taking an intentional safety with three seconds left in a victory over LSU. He should have been trained to step out the back or side of the end zone before being tackled.

Interesting clock game I have not yet had time to research: 1998 week 6 Tennessee over Arkansas

Winning the overtime toss in high school or college

This is not a correction so much as an I-told-you-so. On page 121, I said you should choose to go on defense first if you win the toss for a high-school or college overtime. In the game I mentioned elsewhere on this page, the team that won the overtime toss, celebrated winning the toss, then chose to go on offense first. Dumb. Fatal, as it turned out. The coin-toss winners failed to score in their four downs. The coin-toss losers failed to score in their first three downs, then kicked the game-winning field goal. They would not have even attempted that field goal had they gone first.

Clock stopping on change of possession below high school varsity level

High school rules say that the clock will start on the next snap after a change of possession in high school. But in a recent youth football game, we recovered a fumble with four seconds left in the half. We sent in a play but the refs started the clock and picked the ball up before we could snap it. When we protested, they said a local meeting of officials had decreed that only high school varsity games would abide by the new rule. The fact that I was not at that meeting was unpersuasive to the officials.

In general, you should make inquiries about the inapplicability of clock rules before the game when you are coaching below the high school varsity level. As I said in the book, below-varsity refs tend to ignore new rules that have the effect of lengthening game durations. This rule, 3-4-3b was adopted for the first time for the 1996 season.

The ostensible reason for ignoring the rule is to avoid delaying the following game. But that is no excuse for freshman games, which are played all by themselves on Thursdays, or the final game of a four-game youth day of football. And actually, it's a pretty lame excuse in general. Statistics reported in the Spring 1997 National Federation Coaches' Quarterly indicate that games were nine minutes longer on average, apparently as a result of the new rule.

Seems to me the officials ought to be less conscious of leaving early and more conscious of coaches' need for a uniform set of rules, as well as the reason the rule change was made to begin with. A turnover near the end of a half can be a dramatic development that makes the game far more interesting and exciting. But having the great opportunity to score just peter out because only a few seconds were left on the clock and the defense and offense had to get off and onto the field is no fun.

I generally think the fan/coach admonition to"Let them play!" really means "Let my side cheat." But this is a case where I think "Let them play!" is really an appropriate complaint. Until the rule is adopted by all levels, lower level coaches need to train their defense, I repeat, defense, to line up fast and spike the ball so that the offense can get onto the field and run a play.

PAT guides only apply near the end of a game

Sporting goods vendors give out free guides showing when you should go for one or two on a P.A.T. I discussed that issue at length in Football Clock Management. But I failed to emphasize that those tables and my discussion only apply when your opponent is likely to score just one more time before the end of the game. If it is early in the game, like the first half, you should go for one or two according to which is likely to get you the most points. Generally, if you make your two-point conversions more than half as often as you make your one-point conversions, you should go for two. It would be stupid to consult a P.A.T. guide to see whether to go for one or two early in the game because no table can forecast what point combination is best when each team is likely to score a couple of more times. The possible margins are too numerous.

Take a knee on the :06 kick return, or lateral

I just watched the 10/4/97 Wisconsin-Northwestern game. Wisconsin kicked a field goal to take a one-point lead with :06 left in the game. The game clock starts when the receiving team touches the ball. On the ensuing kick return, a Northwestern middle-row returner grabbed a squib kick and slowly lumbered toward the center of the field. It did not look to me as if that particular player had the breakaway athletic ability to run the ball all the way back for the touchdown. But he did have the athletic ability to run the entire six seconds off the game clock during his search for a few meaningless yards, which is exactly what he did. The clock expired during his run and the game ended when he was subsequently tackled.

He should have taken a knee as soon as he got control of the ball so his team would have a chance to run a scrimmage play which did have a chance to win the game, like a Hail Mary. Or he should have lateraled as he was about to be tackled, to a teammate, or even just lateral to the ground behind him---anything to keep hope alive. By running until time had expired, then allowing himself to be tackled, he foolishly killed any slim hopes his team had to win.

Let's give it a name: "terminal zigging"

Maybe the reason zigging the remaining time away, which also happened at the end of the 1997 Rose Bowl, is so prevalent is that no one has ever put a name on the mistake. I suggest we call it "terminal zigging." Terminal zigging is the ball carrier of the trailing team running around with the ball so long that time runs out on the half during his run, which does not result in a touchdown. If it becomes clear that he cannot score a touchdown on the play, he should either get to the ground before time is out if he has gained a first down or has another timeout or get out of bounds before time runs ou—or, if it's the end of the game—he must lateral to a teammate or to the ground to keep hope alive.

Jets take a safety by passing ball out back of end zone

On 10/5/97, the Jets were ahead of the Colts 16-10 near the end of the game in their own territory. On fourth down at :16 left in the game, they snapped the ball to the quarterback who trotted back a few steps, watched the oncoming defenders, then, when they got close, turned around and threw a pass out the back of the end zone at :11 left in the game. That's a safety. On page 65, I said you could do that, but that it is a foul. The fact that it is a foul only comes into play if time runs out during the play, which did not happen in this game.

Is throwing the ballout the back of the end zone a good idea? I would not have thought so. What if it slips out of the quarterback's hand? Or if he gets hit while throwing? If it hits the goal post, it is just as dead as if it did not because the goal post is out of bounds [NFL Rule 8-4-4(1)]. It also stops the clock in the NFL when you throw a backward pass out of bounds.

The danger on a running safety is that you trip and fall or get tackled short of the goal line. The danger in a backward pass is that the ball does not make it out the back of the end zone. In fact, there is virtually no danger with either the pass or the run. Also, throwing the ball out the back of the end zone runs less time off the clock than running it out.

If you are far from the end zone when you want to take the safety, the pass makes the most sense. Although you do have four downs. If you were far from the end zone, you should have run backwards doing quarterback-keep-sweep slides on the previous three plays so that you got closer to the end zone and could run it in for the safety. If you failed to do that, I like the backward pass as a way to eliminate the danger of a long run to the goal line.

"Yellow" panel on Northwestern sideline 10/4/97

In Football Clock Management, I urged coaches to adopt a colored-panel signalling system to tell the team on the field what speed they should operate at. Red for top-speed hurry-up, yellow for medium-speed hurry-up, and green for slow down. I also featured the Northwestern-Wisconsin game of 1996 prominently in the book. Last Saturday, 10/4/97, I was watching the 1997 Northwestern-Wisconsin game, when I spotted a guy on the Northwestern sideline carrying a yellow-colored panel that also had the word "Yellow" written on it. I guess that's so color-blind players can read it. Either Northwestern got an early copy of my book and adopted my clock-management signalling system, or great minds run in the same channels. Or, maybe more likely, Northwestern's yellow panel has nothing to do with clock management.

Cowboys lose chance to tie when tackle Erik Williams late getting set 10/5/97

In the 10/5/97 Dallas-Giants game, the Giants were up 20-17 when the Cowboys got the ball at their own 36 with 48 seconds left in the game. With the clock under ten seconds, Aikman completed a 32-yard pass to Bjornson at the Giant 17 for a first down. The Cowboys had no timeouts and therefore needed to spike the ball to stop the clock and get the field goal team out to try to tie the game with a 34-yard "chip shot." Aikman did spike the ball before the clock ran out, but right tackle Erik Williams appeared to lack the required sense of urgency about getting 32 yards upfield and into position. He was not set for the requisite one second when the ball was snapped so the Cowboys were flagged for illegal procedure and the game was over.

The Associated Press said Williams had hurt his ankle earlier in the fourth quarter. It appears that Williams was either hurt, loafing, or not paying attention to the clock. If he was hurt, the question arises,"Did he apprise his coaches of the extent of his injury?" If so, and they made a judgment that they were better off with a hurt Erik Williams than his uninjured backup, the coaches bear responsibility for his inability to get set for the spike. In general, the incident points up the need to practice clock-management plays, like spiking the ball, and clock-management tempo, weekly.

Tampa Bay, too

5-0 Tampa Bay did a similar thing in their 10/5/97 loss to Green Bay. Down 21-16, they got the ball with no timeouts and :38 left in the game. With the clock under ten seconds, they needed to spike the ball. But the whole team seemed to be in a fog in the TV replay. The clock ran out while they slowly recovered from the previous play, a four-yard pass completion to their own 46. They seemed either unaware of the clock and score, or as if they had forgotten how you hustle to the line to spike the ball.

Tampa Bay probably would not have won the game even if they had spiked the ball and run off one more play. But to preserve their season's psychological momentum, their 5-0 start should have ended with the "bang" of a failed Hail Mary, not the "whimper" of an inept spike-the-ball play.

Pass just before take-a-knee in Dallas-Redskins Monday Night Football game 10/13/97

The Redskins were in what I call "green" (maximum slowdown) in the MNF game against Dallas. One of my rules for green is that you "prefer the run to the pass." (page 68) Some people forget that I said "prefer." I did say it and it's exactly what I mean. If you need a first down, and you conclude you are more likely to get it with a pass than a run, you should pass, even when you are in a slowdown. Clock management does not mean being conservative when you are ahead. It means being smart. Not getting a first down because you afraid to pass is not smart.

With about 1:30 left, leading 21-16, the Skins threw a third-down out pass complete for a first down. That put them into the take-a-knee period. The Skins did the right thing, got the first down, then took a knee and won the game.

But the chance they took should be commented upon. As Tennessee coach Bob Neyland once said, "When you pass, three things can happen and two of them are bad." In Washington's case, they would not have been bad, they would have been disastrous. An intercepted out pass is often run in for a touchdown. The defense should be in an intercept, rather than bat-down, mode that late in a game in which they are trailing. Even an incompletion would have been a big deal. In the NFL, a post-two-minute warning inbounds play runs about 40 seconds off the game clock. But an incompletion only runs about five seconds off. Had the pass fallen incomplete, Washington probably would have had to turn the ball over and Dallas would have had 35 additional seconds to work with. That's enough time to run six or seven clock-stopping plays.

Congratulatory-handshake touchdown at Shawnee Mission South (KS) High School in 1982

On page 60 of Football Clock Management, I warned readers to beware the congratulatory-handshake touchdown play. I said I had heard that it actually happened somewhere. Rick Burgess of American Football Quarterly says it happened at Shawnee Mission South High School in Kansas in 1982 and was written up in Sports Illustrated at the time. Maybe that was where I heard the story. I'll research it when I do the second edition. In the meantime, if any readers know the details of that incident or any other interesting clock-management stories, I hope they will contact me.

I was contacted by Phil Barnett who says he was a junior tight end on the losing team. Here's the email he sent me:

"I was a Junior on that Shawnee Mission South Team, I played Tight End in two Tight End
sets which we used quite a bit. Anyway, it was the last play of the game, there were about 6 seconds left. Our QB Butch Ross took the snap and just ran around with it, he did not drop to a knee. When the clock hit :00 he held the ball up in the air and started jumping around. John Richert the Shawnee Mission West QB/Free Safety came up, and Ross stuck his hand out to shake his hand. Richert stole the ball out of his hands, and ran it about 30 yards into the endzone for a TD. Well our coach John Davis jumped up and down, and it was chaos for awhile, but it was a good call.

West won the game with :00 on the clock, it was a regional playoff game in front of about 6
or 7,000 people at Shawnee Mission South stadium. Even SI had a little article about it,
and they had a reunion of Ross and Richert a few years later. It was kind of funny...later,
but it wasn't at the time."

Army-Rutgers 10/18/97—stay in bounds, run the slide

My alma mater, Army, barely beat Rutgers on 10/18/97. 0-7 Rutgers is arguably the worst team in Division I-A. There was some noteworthy clock management by Army at the end of the game, and a noteworthy TV-analyst mistake by FX's sportscasters.

With around 2:20 left, the announcers said Army only needed one more first down to get into the take-a-knee period. Army was up 37-35. Rutgers had two timeouts left if I recall correctly. (I research such things for my book, but not for this free Internet service.) As readers of Football Clock Management know, you have to get to :37 if you have first down and the opponent has two timeouts remaining. That's a long way from 2:20. Indeed, Army got a first down, and proceeded to try to get another, as well they should. The announcers, Steve Physioc was one, made no mention of their previous statement that Army only needed one more first down.

In getting a first down, Army's running back ran out of bounds unnecessarily. That was an extremely serious error. It made a gift of about 25 seconds to Rutgers, which could have been fatal. The FX announcers commented that he should not have gone out of bounds, but they did not make enough of it. Going out of bounds was totally unnecessary. The running back seemed to be in an early-in-the-game mind set, that is, he seemed totally unconcerned about whether he went out of bounds or not.

After they got that first down, Army figured they needed another. They were wrong. True, they had not yet entered the take-a-knee period. But they had just entered the quarterback-sweep-slide period. All they needed to do to win the game was take four successive quarterback-keep-sweep-slides for a loss. Instead, they ran a get-another-first-down play. I don't know what it was because a Rutgers defensive lineman came in so fast he disrupted the handoff. Rutgers stripped the ball from Ty Amey with 1:20 left in the game. Army was able to stop Rutgers on defense on the ensuing four downs. But the defense should never have needed to come back on the field.

Army runs a triple-option offense. One of the salient characteristics of that offense is wide line splits. It was through one of those wide line splits that the Rutgers lineman came. Had they switched to a quarterback-sweep-slide formation, with its zero line splits, and a keeper play, there is little danger that a defensive lineman would have burst through the line and there would have been no handoff to disrupt. Had the running back who got the last Army first down stayed in bounds, his team could have taken a knee, not done the dicier sweep-slide, at the point when they were still trying to get yet another first down and lost the ball to Rutgers.

10/19/97 49ers at Falcons When in red, get out of bounds

San Francisco had the ball for a two-minute drill before halftime. William Floyd caught a screen pass and ran down the sideline, but inexplicably failed to get out of bounds. Extremely bad move. His team then wasted several seconds after the end of the play before they realized that he did not get out. Then they had to burn a timeout.

With eight seconds left, the Niners snapped the ball and Steve Young dropped back. Finding no one open, he ran up the middle zigging a bit before he slid and gave an instant timeout signal. Too late. Time had expired during his zigging. Terminal zigging. Offenses need to practice running plays with under ten seconds left in the half so they get in their heads the need to either score or get to the ground or out of bounds before the clock runs out so another play can be run. Had it been the end of the game, as opposed to the end of the first half, Young should have lateraled if his team was behind and he found he could not score on the final play.

10/19/97 Broncos at Raiders, third-down pass in green

Taking a page from last Monday's Redskins' game, the Raiders threw a pass on third and eleven when they were ahead of the undefeated Broncos 28-23 with 1:24 left in the game. The Raiders were deep in their own territory. As with the Skins, it worked. And as with the Skins, this was a heck of a risk.

The element of surprise is overrated in football. Generally, the way you surprise someone is to do something stupid. The question is will the element of surprise overcome the element of stupidity. In this case, it did. But someone needs to look at the probabilities. In general, the 1996 NFL incompletion percentage was 42.4; the interception percentage, 3.39. The element of surprise may help those probabilities. You could also improve them by choosing a higher percentage pass. But still!

The 10/27/97 Sports Illustrated discussed this play. They say Raiders' quarterback Jeff George talked offensive coordinator Ray Perkins into it---"come on, Ray, let's run the boot." That reminds me of the time Rams coach George Allen decided to squib kick only to Detroit's Lem Barney. Just before game time, Allen let the team captains talk him into kicking deep to Barney. Barney returned the kick 92 yards for a touchdown. It is part of the coach's job to resist such emotional pleas from the players. The rationalizations of "showing confidence in the players" and all that don't wash. Be smart. Follow the admonition of the great philosopher, Clint Eastwood: "A man's got to know his limitations."

How did the Raiders get deep in their own territory? The Broncos had just scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to make the score 28-25 then kicked off deep. Why no onside kick? Beats me. How important is field position when you have John Elway running a two-minute drill? And what is the probability that you will prevent a team from getting just one first down? By kicking deep Denver all but eliminated the possibility that they would recover the kick and they increased the probability that they would get the ball, if at all, in Broncos' territory. And didn't the Raiders acquire Super Bowl MVP kick returner Desmond Howard in the off-season?

You cannot say for certain that kicking deep was a bad idea. But it seems likely to me that an NFL opponent will probably get one first down, therefore you must kick onside.

Slowdown all the time

On page 68 of Football Clock Management, I said that most teams run their regular-speed offense almost at a slowdown pace. As I watch games on TV this fall, with broadcasters' increased propensity to show the play clock on the screen, I conclude that I was more right than I realized. It seems like everyone is in a maximum slowdown, in terms of using all the play clock, almost the whole game. As readers of my book know, I agree with that if the team in question is ahead and not in an end-of-first-half hurry-up situation. But operating at a slowdown pace at any time when you are behind is self-destructive (except for certain last-possession-of-first-half drives).

10/20/97 Colts-Bills game---wasted timeouts

At the end of Monday nights Colts-Bills game, the Bills had the ball and were driving deep into Colts' territory. The score was tied. The Colts had wasted two timeouts when they were unable to get plays off on time earlier in the half. They were forced to use the last one to stop the Bills from wasting time during their final drive. Playing chicken with the play clock, when you don't need to, or even when you should not because you are behind, increases the chances that you will have to waste timeouts to avoid delay penalties. One of the hidden benefits of running a whole-game hurry-up is that you rarely get penalized for delay.

In the first half, the Colts said they had to waste some timeouts because they were having trouble getting plays in because of electronic problems with their quarterback helmet radio. Be it ever so humble, my MagnaDoodle never had an electronics problem.

The Bills did a nice job of running a "green" offense at the end of the game. They had all three of their timeouts until the last three seconds of the game when they finally used one to stop the clock for the game-winning field-goal attempt, which was successful. The field-goal play itself used the final three seconds of the game so there was no need to kickoff afterward. This sounds like a good time to point out that Bills head coach Marv Levy is a Harvard man.

Dan, Al, and Frank also did a good job of commenting about the Colts' wasting timeouts and the effect that had on the game.

OK to pass on fourth down in green

On page 68, one of the slowdown (green) rules I gave was to "Prefer the run to the pass." There are two reasons for that: 1. incomplete passes stop the clock when you are trying to waste time. 2. turnover avoidance. On fourth down, there is no incomplete-pass reason to prefer the run. On fourth down the clock is going to stop regardless of whether the pass is incomplete or not. So you should change the rule to "Prefer the run to the pass except on fourth down."

If you turn the ball over on downs because of an incompletion or because your completion was not enough for the first down, the clock will stop for the change of possession at the varsity high school level and above. Even if you complete the pass and get the first down, the clock will stop for the moving of the chains and you will still be able to take the full play-clock time off the clock. In other words, the only reason to refrain from passing on fourth down when you are in a green mode is to avoid a turnover, and that's not much of a reason because if you fail to get the first down, that's a turnover, too. There is one advantage to turning it over on downs rather than an interception: the interception might be run back for a touchdown or big gain. A pass over the middle would be less likely to be returned for a big gain and may even result in better field position than turning it over on downs or punting.

Make it the Vikings

So far, I am only aware of one actual error in Football Clock Management (other than typos). My 16-year old tailback son is reading the book and pointed out that I erroneously referred to Minnesota's NFL team as the Twins on page 23.

Cavalier use of timeouts almost cost game

I went to a junior college football game on 11/1/97. The losing team was trailing by five points and got to snap the ball with :04 left from the winner's 10-yard line. Their pass fell incomplete. But it need not have been so close to going the other way.

The winning team had been ahead the whole game. When you are ahead, you should not take any timeouts. But if you must, you should take them only at the end of the play clock. This team just called their timeouts throughout the second half whenever they wanted to chat. Furthermore, they called them early, maybe before the referee had even started the play clock. That is a gift to the trailing team of about 30 seconds every time you do it. The scoreboard did not show how many timeouts each team had. But I am sure the winners used at least two in the second half, both for chatting about the next play.

Niners' Tim McDonald runs with interception, risking disaster unnecessarily, after take-a-knee

In the 11/2/97 Dallas-San Francisco game, Niners defensive back Tim McDonald intercepted a Cowboy pass with :37 left in the game. The 49ers were ahead 17-10. The Cowboys had used all their timeouts.

McDonald ended up on his back after initially bobbling the ball. He had not yet been touched by a Cowboy so he got up and ran the ball back until he was tackled. Normally, that would be a good idea. But not in that situation. He was still in a "more" mindset when he should have switched to an "enough" mindset.

In the NFL, the take-a-knee period starts at 2:02 when you have first down and your opponent has no timeouts left. The 49ers were well within their take-a-knee period when McDonald made that interception. Therefore, he should have stayed on the ground. Then the offense would come out and take a knee until the game ended. By getting up and running until he was tackled, he risked a fumble, which could have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Actually, that would be a case like the 1935 Notre Dame-Ohio State game which sportswriter Damon Runyon described as "Snatching defeat from victory's esophagus." Had he fumbled and Dallas won, Tim McDonald would be the biggest goat in the history of the 49ers. Every sports writer, radio talk show host and fan would be asking indignantly, "Why didn't he just stay on the ground?"

But in the event, no one commented about his failure to stay on the ground. That includes Fox's TV team, John Madden and Pat Summerall.

Some might say it would be too much to ask to say a defensive back should be thinking about such things. Baloney. The Niners should have had a clock-management assistant coach who held up a checkered panel indicating that the 49ers should immediately take a knee or run out of bounds if they get possession. They should have practiced it. Their defensive captain should call the defense and remind his teammates, "Take a knee on turnover." When they saw the interception, his teammates and coaches should all have yelled' "Stay down!"

Tell the ref before you fake taking a knee

"I recently spoke to Holly Newman, the high school and youth football referee who proofread Football Clock Management for rules errors, about the fake take-a-knee play. She said she recently refereed a game in which the team that was leading by a small margin at the end of the game took a knee on two plays then suddenly faked taking a knee and ran a regular play. She blew the play dead.

"The offense was outraged but a more experienced official on her staff during the game said she did the right thing. Officials are biased in favor of safety. When a team gets into a take-a-knee mode at the end of a half, the officials switch their focus to preventing the quarterback from being hurt. Furthermore, they assume sportsmanship and intelligence on the part of the leading team at the end of a game. That is, they assume no one would try to run up the score or risk losing by running a play after they had reached the take-a-knee point.

"The leading team is entitled by rule to run up the score or to unnecessarily risk defeat by running a play. The officials will not interfere with the fake take-a-knee play if they know it's coming. But if you surprise them, they may inadvertently blow the play dead. Accordingly, she recommends two things: tell the referee (the one wearing the white hat) before the play and try to avoid dipping your knee toward the ground as part of the play. The fake take-a-knee play need not involve any dipping of the knee. Rather it need only follow a previous take-a-knee play. Partially dipping the knee might make the fake work better. But it also increases the chances of an inadvertent whistle or of the officials thinking the knee touched the ground. For example, you may tell the referee only to have the umpire blow the play dead. If you tell all the officials, you increase the probability that the defense will figure out what you're doing.

"I repeat the principle that you should only do the fake take-a-knee play at the end of the first half or at the end of the second half when you are tied. You should never do the fake take-a-knee play at the end of a game when you are leading because it constitutes running up the score and, if you are ahead by eight points or less, risking a turnover after you have reached the take-a-knee point is extreme coaching incompetence."

Terminal zigging just before half in Bills-Patriot game 11/9/97

Just before halftime, the Bills quarterback ran up the middle and slid, immediately signaling timeout. The officials ruled timeout ran out before his signal. This is yet another example of a ball carrier killing his team's chances by wasting all the remaining time in the half in order to gain a few more meaningless yards. Crowds and substitutes in the bench area should be encouraged to count down the time out loud in both halves, to help their team when it is in possession near the end of a half. Players need to practice getting to the ground soon enough to call a timeout or move the chains or out of bounds soon enough to stop the clock before time runs out.

Seahawks risks scrimmage-kick disaster when up 34-31 with 1:21 left

On 11/9/97 in their game with San Diego, Seattle was up 34-31 with 1:21 left. They had the ball at about the Charger 15 and kicked a field goal on fourth down. It was good and they went on to win 37-31. Was attempting that field goal smart? On page 189 of Football Clock Management, I said it was not.

Before the field goal, San Diego needed a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win. After the field goal, San Diego needed a touchdown to win. So the only benefit of the successful field goal was eliminating San Diego's ability to tie the game with a field goal.

How likely was San Diego to kick a field goal had Seattle gone for the first down and turned the ball over on downs? They would have to drive about 60 yards to have a 50-yard attempt, in about 1:16. The NFL success rate in 1996 from 50 yards was only 51.7%. The success rate at driving 60 yards in less than 1:10 does not appear in the league stats. But it would require an average gain of six to 20 yards per snap. In other words, there was very little chance of a San Diego field goal to tie. What did Seattle risk by doing a scrimmage kick to avoid the slight possibility of a field goal tie?

As I noted in Football Clock Management, when you attempt a scrimmage kick (punt or field goal attempt), five things can happen and one of them is bad and three of them can be disastrous. Seattle risked a bad snap or a blocked kick, either one of which could have resulted in an immediate game-winning touchdown on that play.

Even if the field goal is good, which it was, the Seahawks then have to kickoff to the Chargers. Kickoffs, like scrimmage kicks, are risky plays. The Chargers are more likely to run a kickoff back for a touchdown or long return than they are to move the ball 60 yards, all by way of plays from scrimmage.

In short, Seattle should not have risked a scrimmage kick in that situation. They should have gone for the first down.

San Francisco risks scrimmage kick disaster when up 27-19

In their 11/16/97 game against Carolina, the 49ers had fourth down in Carolina territory late in the fourth quarter. They attempted a field goal from around the Calrolina 35. Apparently because of a high snap, it was blocked, picked up, and run back to around the San Francisco 45. Carolina's drive ended with a Merton Hanks interception in the end zone at 1:44 and San Francisco gained one first down then took a knee for the win.

But was the risk the Niners took worth it? Had they succeeded with the field goal, the score would have been 30-19, thereby forcing Carolina to score twice to win or tie. On the other hand, if the Niners had gone for the first down and failed, Carolina would have taken over on downs around their own 30, with less than two minutes left.

The question is which is more likely to result in a Carolina win: two kicking plays (field goal and ensuing kickoff) or turning the ball over on downs at the Carolina 30? It is a closer call than the Seahawk-Charger game described above. But I still think the Niners did the wrong thing going for the field goal. The Niners have the best defense in the NFL. Their special teams are much improved, but you can never feel as confident about kicking plays as you can about a good defense.

Scrimmage kick plays are extremely dangerous. I am amazed at how willing coaches are to risk them when they have the option of turning the ball over on downs in the opponent's territory.

Dallas kicks go ahead field goal but leaves :04 on the clock

Dallas won their 11/16/97 game against the Redskins with a dramatic field goal. But they used a timeout to stop the clock with :08 left. The field goal itself took :04 off the clock leaving :04. That meant Dallas had to kick off to Washington. In spite of a lateral attempt by the Skins kick returner, Washington lost when time ran out during the kick return. But why did they have a chance to return a kick at all? Above, I discussed a Bills-Colts game in which Marv Levy let the clock run down to :03 before he called timeout to kick the game-winning field goal. Time expired during the kick so there was no subsequent kickoff.

Dallas should have let the clock run down farther to around :03.

Lindy Infante, Clock Management Coach of the Week

The 11/16/97 Packers-Colts game was a big enough story: the 0-10 Colts upset the defending Super Bowl Champion Packers 41-38. But I was most interested in the fact that Colts coach Lindy Infante did a great job of clock management at the end and thereby completely eliminated the possibility of a Packer comeback.

With 1:44 left in the game, and the game tied at 38, the Colts got first and goal at the Packers' one-yard line. The Packers had two timeouts left. In Football Clock Management, I discussed taking a knee only in terms of when you are ahead at the end of a half. It never occurred to me to take a knee when you are tied. But Infante did it and he was right. Shame on me for not thinking of it.

Infante ran a take-a-knee play for the first three downs. That forced the Packers to use their last timeout. Once Green Bay had no timeouts so Indianapolis was able to run almost 40 seconds per snap off the clock. Prior to the fourth-down snap, they put their field-goal team on the field, let the clock run down to :03 and called their own timeout. They then kicked the game-winning field goal, which consumed the remaining time left in the game.

My NFL take-a-knee table on page 93 says you need to get to 1:24 if you have first down and your opponent has one timeout. But 1:44 is not 1:24 so how does the Colts' situation enable them to take a knee? After the Colts gain to the one-yard line, the Packers inexplicably failed to call timeout while the clock ran down from 1:44 to 1:22. Two seconds before the Packers called timeout, the game ended, in effect, by going into the take-a-knee period.

This was a great example of a coach understanding the concept of more versus enough. There is no extra credit for scoring fast. Nor is there any benefit to winning by seven points instead of three. Infante correctly felt he needed nothing but the field goal to win and that he could and should use all the remaining time before he attempted it. Although at lower levels, like high school, where every extra point kick is an adventure, I probably would have taken a knee on the first two downs, tried for a running touchdown on third down using a fake take-a-knee play to do it, then gone for the field goal on fourth if the running touchdown attempt failed. The basic principle is that you run the play most likely to win the game. In the NFL, that's the field goal. At lower levels, look at your stats.

"Clock management, clock management" says Schottenheimer

John Elway did one of his trademark comebacks in the 11/16/97 game against Kansas City. With two minutes left, he led his team 56 yards to set up Jason Elam's go-ahead field goal, 22-21. With one minute left, Kansas City came back and kicked their own go-ahead field goal on the last play of the game. KC won 24-22.

"I was thinking 'clock management, clock management.'" said Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer regarding the last two minutes of the game. He used two timeouts on defense when Denver started running the ball to get into position for the field goal. I presume that Denver was letting the whole play clock run before each snap at that point. I could not tell from the news accounts, but it appeared Schottenheimer used his final timeout for his own field goal attempt.

This is an illustration of the principle that whatever your opponent wants, you want the opposite. Denver needed to get into field goal range. Once they did, they wanted to waste time before their field goal attempt. When the Broncos were still out of field goal range, KC should have been wasting time. They had the lead. Any time saved was most likely to help Denver. During that period, Denver was trying to save time so KC would try to waste it. But once Denver got within field goal range, the tables turned. The Broncos then wanted to waste time and KC needed to conserve time. Although KC still had the lead, it became apparent from the margin and field position that they were likely to lose the lead just as soon as Denver attempted its field goal.

You generally do not call timeouts when you are ahead. But there are times when you are ahead, but probably not going to stay ahead. That happens when you are ahead by less than three and your opponent is within their field goal kicker's probably-good range. In that case, the opponent should start to behave as though they were ahead and you should start to behave as if you were behind. That's exactly what happened in the Denver-KC game. Marty Schottenheimer, whom I criticized in Football Clock Management for a 1992 clock-management mistake, was very smart in terms of clock management against Denver on 11/16/97.

More play codes

My no-huddle chapter says one way to send plays in fast is to write a four-digit code on a white board or magnetic drawing toy. My most recent code had the players add two numbers together. The last digit of the sum was the play to run. That enabled me to use ten different combinations to send in the same play. Actually, I could send the same play in with 500 different cominations of numbers for reasons which are explained in the book but which I will not cover here.

Recently, my ten-year old son told me a riddle which offers an interesting variation. "When does five and nine more equal two?" The answer is when you are talking about the time of day. Nine hours after five AM is two PM. You could tell your players that the two digits they are to add together represent time of day in non-military time. Mathematicians would say you were using a base of twelve instead of a base of ten. Thus, Play #4 would be sent in with any of the following combinations: 0+4, 1+3, 2+2, 3+1, 4+0, 7+9, 8+8, 9+7. This might be useful when your opponent knows about your adding numbers together.

In the same conversation, my ten-year old mentioned rounding. That is yet anoter way to combine numbers in ways that confound opponents who might know about the adding-numbers play-calling code. Treat two numbers as if they had a decimal between them then round off to get the play. For example, 4 6 would be 4.6 or 5. 4 2 would be 4.2 or 4. That gives you ten combinations to send in each play.

A game between two opponents who read my book would previously have each trying to figure out which two numbers the opponent was adding together. Now, they have to wonder are they adding or rounding and is it a ten base or a twelve base? To such would-be code breakers, the great philosopher Donnie Brasco would say, "Forget about it."

More on Cal's Stanford Band five-lateral kick return

In recent comments above, I have written approvingly of coaches who use their final timeout at :03 to kick the game-winning field goal. Failure to do that cost Stanford the famous 1982 five-lateral play game.

Stanford's quarterback, John Elway, led his team down the field in the closing seconds to field-goal range. Stanford was trailing 19-17 when they got to the Cal 18. Elway called timeout with :08 left in the game. Oops. That means they have to kick off after the field goal. Elway hit himself in the helmet as soon as he saw the clock and realized what he had done. Mark Harmon's kick was good making the score 20-19 Stanford with :04 left.

Mass celebrations erupted. Stanford was penalized for the celebrations and had to kick off from their own 25 after the field was cleared. Cal's Richard Rodgers called a huddle and said, "If you get the ball and you're going to get tackled, pitch it." At first, Cal had only nine guys on the field. Two others assumed the game was over. The finally got two subs onto the field just as the ball was kicked.

Two of the guys lateraling the ball during the play were option quarterbacks in high school. The last lateral was a blind pitch back over the shoulder. College rules at the time said the game would have been over if the ball had hit the ground.

I said in Football Clock Management to teach your players that the game ends on the whistle, not the gun. Teach your band, too. Stanford's band had been told not to march onto the field until the game was over. But they were not taught that the game is not over until the last play ends. They marched out during the last play, although after the final gun sounded, thereby making their team look even more foolish and drawing a penalty flag. If Cal had not made it to the end zone, the band's penalty would have given Cal yet another chance. Cal declined the penalty and took the game-winning touchdown. Final score: Cal 25, Stanford 20. The good sports at Stanford engraved the 1982 score of Stanford 20, Cal 19 on the Axe trophy which the winner gets possession of after each Big Game.

When you are going to kick a go-ahead field goal, you should let the clock run down so only one to three seconds are left before you call timeout. The same applies to running a clock-stopping next-to-last play like spiking the ball or throwing an incomplete pass or running out of bounds when you have no timeouts left. A word should also be said about premature celebrations. I told of several that cost the celebrants the game in Football Clock Management. Coaches need to practice, maybe only once, not celebrating after an apparent game-winning event. It ain't over til it's over.

Unsportsmanlike conduct with :48 left

Sports Illustrated's 12/8/97 issue had an article called "Dumb and dumber." "Dumber" referrred to Washington Redskin Michael Westbrook's stupid stunt in their 11/23/97 game against the Giants. With :48 left in overtime, 2nd and 10 at the Giants 38, Westbrook made a diving catch near the Giants 25-yard line, but it did not count because it was ruled out of bounds. During his bad-call tantrum, Westbrook felt compelled to yank off his helmet, an act that was made prima facie unsportsmanlike conduct by a recent rules committee.

Two plays later, with :11 left, the Skins attempted a 54 yard field goal. It was short. Subtract 15 yards and it's a 39-yard attempt. In 1996, Washington's field goal kicker Scott Blanton was two for three from 50 or more yards and 22 for 22 from 39 yards or less.

In a clock situation, the importance of everything is magnified, including stupid penalties. The incidence of unsportsmanlike penalties appears to be increasing. Coaches need to find a way to eliminate them. My experience, as a coach and in other areas like army officer, civilian boss, and landlord, indicates that you simply have to increase the punshment until you achieve the desired result. The Skins apparently had not done that with Westbrook.

I read somewhere that the National Hockey League finally cut the number of fights by simply increasing the penalty until it was high enough to do the trick. I have never had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against a team where I was head coach. How so? I made a stern speech the first day of practice and repeated a shortened version every time I saw anything remotely resembling unsportsmanlike conduct in practice or a game. The basic message was that you would be done for the day and probably lose your position on first string for a long time if you got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Skins cannot afford to bench Westbrook for such a penalty. But then they have the option of fining players a la the NHL, an option which I did not have in high school or youth football.

NBA clock operators fired after loss

In ain't football, but the same principle applies. Head coaches must make sure their home game clock operators are competent and fair and must watch away game clock operators to make sure they are competent and fair. On 11/24/97, the Portland Trail Blazers came from behind in the last seconds to beat the home team Toronto Raptors in NBA action. The game and shot clock operators were brothers. With 3.5 seconds left in the game, the game clock operator accidentally stopped the clock for 1.5 or 1.6 seconds. That made a gift to the trailing team, Portland, of 1.6 seconds. The Trail Blazers scored the winning basket during that extra 1.6 seconds. Both the game clock operator and his brother, who were paid $40 each a game, were fired four days later.

Football has often been described as a "game of inches." It is equally a game of seconds. Every second matters. And you must have game-clock and play-clock operators who get it right, to the second.

I agree with the clock operator's punishment, at least for the game-clock operator. But I must note that football coaches and quarterbacks commit the same mistake, wasting seconds, in virtually every game. Were the same standard applied to coaches, virtually every coach in America would be fired. It need not be so. You should have a clock-management assistant coach who tells you when you should be operating at the various speeds. If you do and operate at those speeds when indicated, you will not waste seconds unnecessarily.

A coach friend of mine scored early in the first quarter to take a 6-0 lead in a 1997 game. He never paid any attention to the clock. That is, he never switched to a slowdown mode, not even for one second. In the fourth quarter, with literally one second left in the game, the opponent scored a touchdown. They, too, missed the extra point. Neither team could score in two overtimes and the game ended in a tie. My coach friend failed to make proper use of around 30 opportunities to waste time, and it cost him the victory.

Poor clock management costs NJ high school team state championship

Here's an e-mail I got from reader Lee McGuire:

Jack - I came across an article in the Sports section of the Tuesday, 12/9/97 edition of the USA Today. The article "Bad Timing Costs NJ Team a title" written by Heather Burns. I'll give you a few excerpts. See if you can go back & find it. I think it would be a great addition to the clock mgmt page.

"Bernards (Bernardsville, NJ) learned a tough lesson in football clock mgmt at a terrible time Saturday. Leading 12-6 with 1:37 to go, after holding off a late drive by Shore Regional (West Long Branch), the Bernards' bench started celebrating what looked like a sure Central Jersey Group I title. But with the ball at its own 15-yard line, Bernards (9-2) botched its attempt to run out the clock, and ended up losing 19-18 in overtime. Its undoing was its final four plays. A QB sneak...and then three consecutive kneel downs. 'I don't know why they didn't punt,' Shore coach Mark Costantino said. 'Maybe they thought the clock would run out, but with change of possession, the clock stops.'

While Bernards started celebrating by pouring gatorade over head of coach Richard Tramaglini, the clock stopped with 6 seconds left. Shore Regional got the ball back, and with time for one pass, Pete Vincelli caught a 14-yd touchdown strike from Pat O'Neill tying the game at 12. The PAT was missed forcing overtime. "...we never should have given the ball back in regulation," Tramaglini said. "We wanted to use all the time left....I guess in the excitement we rushed things a little too much." Each team got possession on the 25-yd line (I thought Federation was 10?) Shore Regional scored, and kicked the PAT. Score now 19-12. Bernards comes back to score. But coach Tramaglini decides to go FOR TWO!! He felt his team was tired, so he decided to go for the win.

The article doesn't say how many (if any) timeouts Shore Regional had left.

John Reed comments: This is yet another example of premature celebration. It is also apparently an example of not understanding the take-a-knee table, not understanding the quarterback-keep-sweep-slide table, not knowing when to take a safety, not knowing how to run a green offense (maxmimum slowdown), and the rules pertaining to clock management, like the fact that the clock stops when one team turns the ball over on downs.

Shawnee Mission South post-horn takeaway to win game

In Football Clock Management, I told of a game in which the QB of the leading team stopped playing after the final gun sounded. An opposing player stuck out his hand offering congratulations. When the QB extended his hand to shake, the defender stole the ball and ran the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown.

I received an email from a player in that game. Phil Barnett was a junior tight end on the Shawnee Mission South High School team that lost the game. He gives these details. At the snap, there were about six seconds left. QB Butch Ross took the snap, ran around with and never took a knee. Shawnee Mission West free safety John Richert extended his hand to Ross after the horn. He stole the ball when Ross extended his hand and ran about 30 yards for the game-winning touchdown. This was a regional playoff game in front of a crowd of about 6,000 or 7,000. Sports Illustrated wrote a brief article about it.

The game ends on the whistle, not the clock, gun, or horn. To get a whistle, take a knee or run out of bounds.

Arizona-TCU 9/5/99

Ever since my Football Clock Management book came out in September of 1997, I have been expecting to see something from my book in a televised game. It finally happened, I think. At the end of the Arizona-TCU game on 9/5/99, Arizona was ahead and had fourth down with the clock stopped by a TCU timeout. There were three seconds left in the game. If Arizona had just taken a knee, there probably would have been time left on the clock for one play by TCU. The game was at TCU so the finger on the clock was a TCU finger.
Instead of taking a knee, Arizona's QB ran out to the left losing about 15 yards on the play. After the final gun went off, he slid. That looked like a version of the quarterback keep sweep slide, a play which I believe I invented in my book. I had never seen or heard of it previously.

The time and opponent timeouts remaining at the beginning of that final series probably was such that they should have run a quarterback keep sweep slide on the first-down play. Waiting until the fourth-down play is cutting it awfully close.

Michigan-Notre Dame 9/4/99

The articles about the Michigan-Notre Dame game focused on the celebration penalty by a Notre Dame receiver. I have no sympathy for him. That stuff is childish nonsense. I agree it was an important play. But the more important play was the clock-management mistake made by Notre Dame. After scoring a touchdown to take a one point lead, Notre Dame wisely decided to go for two. However, they unwisely decided to call a time out to discuss it.

At the end of the game they needed that timeout. Timeouts should be used to increase the number of plays that you can run. That means you only call them when the game clock is running—preferably when the opponent is in their slowdown because that's when you save the maximum amount of time. The game clock is not running on a PAT. Notre Dame might counter that they needed to talk about it because it was important that they succeed with the two-point conversion. I wouldn't buy that. It was important, but Notre Dame should have had one or two two-point conversion plays in their game plan coming into the game. So call the darned thing and run it. What's the need or benefit of discussing it? The harm of calling a timeout to discuss it is that you may need that timeout later, which is exactly what happened.

1999 CA-TX High School all-star game

A reader called to tell me about the 1999 California-Texas Shrine All-Star Classic game. He said TX was ahead by 3 at the end of the game. On fourth down, the TX quarterback quickly dropped back about ten yards then took a knee leaving one second on the clock. California's Kyle Boller used that second to throw a 70-yard touchdown pass to win the game. He is now contending for the starting quarterback job at the University of California as a true freshman.

Apparently, the Texas quarterback had not been taught the proper way to do the quarterback keep sweep slide and did not understand the objective. From the ten-yard drop, it sounds like his coach told him to do something other than a normal take-a-knee play.

9/11/99 Notre Dame-Purdue

For the second week in a row, Notre Dame ran out of time when they were within one score of winning and deep in enemy territory. With first and goal at the Purdue one-yard line, Notre Dame called a timeout. There were around 12 seconds left in the game. The TV announcers at the Purdue game commented repeatedly on Notre Dame's poor clock management, particularly on using timeouts to discuss plays. (The ideal time to call timeouts is when the opponent is running their slowdown offense.)

Notre Dame used the timeout to call a play with a false check (audible). But the running backs thought the check was real and went the wrong way and the quarterback was sacked for a nine-yard loss. Even though they had enough time to run at least two plays, the Irish were so discombobulated by the first-down play that they could not get lined up again before the clock ran out.

Your last play of the game should be one that your team knows cold. That would either be a regular play or a trick play that you have practiced the heck out of. In this case, it sounds like Notre Dame did not get enough reps of the fake check. Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie said, "...we've all learned that we shouldn't be in a situation like that where we have to check at all." I am not sure what he means by that, but he also said something to the effect that the confusion was a breakdown in coaching. Two plays should have been called in the timeout huddle and they both should have been solid, reliable, regular plays or maybe one regular play and a thoroughly-practiced special play. The design of the first play run should have been such that it would facilitate getting the second one off in time if the first failed.

9/11/99 Baylor-UNLV

With the clock running and five seconds left in the game, Baylor was ahead 24-21 on the UNLV 8. UNLV had no timeouts. That is an obvious take-a-knee situation. The clock-management rule in that situation is when you are in a take-a-knee situation, you must take a knee.

Baylor ran a dive. The ball was stripped, picked up one yard in the end zone by UNLV's Kevin Thomas, and ran 101 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Baylor lost 27-24. I believe that was the dumbest clock-management move of the decade. If anyone is aware of a dumber one, please let me know. The last guy who did something that dumb, as far as I know, was Bob Gibson, a NY Giants offensive coordinator who caused the 1978 "Miracle of the Meadowlands" loss to Philadelphia when he ran two dives during take-a-knee. He was fired the next day and never worked in football again and his head coach and operations manager were fired the day after the season ended.

Baylor coach Kevin Steele said he was "trying to create an attitude" with the play. That was sort of what Gibson appeared to have done in 1978. He refused to comment, but it appeared that Gibson was trying to punish a Philadelphia linebacker for hitting the Giants QB on the first take a knee.
The punishment was to have legendary fullback Larry Csonka run over the linebacker.

There is too much recently-fashionable "attitude" in today's major sports, and not enough plain old-fashioned competence. Too many people are stylin'. Too few are using good fundamentals---a problem which Baylor's blunder indicates is now apparently spreading to the coaches.

9/12/99 New England-Jets

Down by two points and inside the Jets ten yard line, New England's Drew Bledsoe took a knee. Excellent clock management. Then he very deliberately watched the clock tick down. When it got to seven seconds, he called timeout. "Three!" I yelled at the TV. You don't call that timeout at seven seconds. You wait until three seconds so there is no need to kick off after the field goal. On that same day, the Cardinals let the clock tick down to four seconds before they called timeout and kicked the game-winning field goal against the Eagles.

That's the mistake Stanford's John Elway made in the famous Cal-Stanford game where Cal won with a five-lateral kick return. If Elway had waited as long as he should before calling timeout, there would have been no kickoff return. You only need one second to snap the ball after a timeout. The only reason you make it three is to make sure the ref doesn't think you waited until zero to ask for it.

New England won, but there was no reason for them to have risked the kickoff return.

9/20/99 Monday Night Football Cowboys 24 Falcons 7

Just before half time, a Cowboy fair caught a punt 57 yards from the Falcon's goal post. Time ran out during the punt. The teams then left the field. But ABC's Al Michaels immediately pounced on the opportunity for a fair catch free kick, which is thoroughly covered in Football Clock Management. Michaels explained that the Cowboys could have attempted a free-kick field goal even though there was no time left on the clock. That's where they kick the ball like a kick off. There is no snap, hold, or rush. The defense has to stay at least 10 yards away. The kicker can run at the ball from twenty yards back if he wants. Michaels pointed out that the only down side was that the kick could be returned if it came down within the 57 yards. But that's not much of a risk when you consider that place kickers routinely kick touchbacks from their own 30. This ball was on the Falcons 47.

I am really impressed with Michaels on this. Most announcers know even less about clock management than coaches, who themselves know scandalously little. Dallas's Chan Gailey screwed up in my opinion. He should have attempted the field goal. The three points would not have changed the outcome of the game as it turned out, but there was no reason to not go for it.

Week 4 (10/3-4/99)

Let's look at all the games in one weekend to get an idea of how many games would have a different winner if the losing team had practiced better clock management. I will assume that the margin of victory must be eight points or less for the game to possibly turn on clock-management. Several games were won by wider margins: Cowboys 35, Cardinals 7; Jaguars 17, Steelers 3; Patriots 19, Browns 7; Rams 38, Bengals 10. The other games were all close.

The Titans lost (24-22) a close game which I watched on TV because it involved my local 49ers. First question is did the Titans have an opportunity to kill clock when they were ahead? Yes. In the second quarter, Tennessee was ahead and had possession. If they had killed clock when they were ahead (waiting until the end of the play clock to snap the ball, stay on thhe ground, etc.), could they have eliminated San Francisco's seven-point touchdown which came at 1:56 left in the first half? If they eliminate that score, they win the game.

Looking at the game play-by-play, Tennessee's first possession of the second quarter took 2:56. Examining each play reveals that's almost maximum slow-down pace. The only way they could have made it last longer would have been to avoid the incomplete pass on second and eight at their own 13. Excellent clock management.

Their second possession of the second quarter lasted 1:44. About the longest they could have made it last was 1:50. Not bad. San Francisco used a timeout during that Titan possession. Smart on SF's part. The titans never again had the lead. Bottom line: the Titans could not have eliminated the SF score at 1:56 left in the half with clock management alone. This was not a clock-management loss. By the way, this was a very well-played game and enjoyable to watch. The media made the story of the game Jeff Fisher's two-point conversion play call. I agree.

Week 4 continued: Raiders-Seahawks

My other local team, the Raiders, played Sunday night and lost to Seattle. Could they have won with better clock management? The Seahawks scored a six-point TD with :59 left in the first half. Eliminate that score and Oakland wins. The Raiders were ahead from 11:05 left in the first quarter until the fourth quarter. Did they kill as much clock as they should during their possessions when they were leading?

The Raider's first possession after they took the lead lasted 7:28. In fact, they could have taken 9:10 on that possession without changing a single play call or result. (See the official play-by-play.) They should have been in a maximum slow down during that possession. They apparently were not. That violates sound clock-management principles. It cost them the game. Oakland's head coach John Gruden made a lot of angry faces during the game. But the fact is his team played well enough to win, but lost because he failed to manage the clock. He should be maddest about that.

I only looked at one possession. In fact, Oakland had several possessions during which they could have and should have killed clock. They mismanaged the clock by a very wide margin.

As usual, the media totally overlooked this clock-management point, which was the main story of the game. Had I been a TV or radio analyst during that first drive after Oakland took the lead, I would have commented on Oakland's failure to operate in a maximum slow-down mode and I would have warned that leaving that time on the clock could come back to haunt them. When Seattle scored with :59 left in the first half, I would have commented that score would not have occurred had the Raiders applied good clock management earlier in the half and that those six points may come back to haunt Oakland. Oakland lost 22-21. Q.E.D.

Week 4 continued: Vikings-Bucs

Minnesota won 21-14. Did the winning team score near the end of either half? No. They scored all their points in the first quarter. Did the losing team run out of time at the end of either half? Yes. Tampa ran out of time after a first-down play to their own 25 at the end of the second quarter and after a second-down play at the Minnesota 18 at the end of the game. Did they take every opportunity to conserve time in the second half?

No. According to the official play-by-play, they still had a timeout left at the end of the game! If they had called their first time out when they should, they would have had an additional 40 seconds when time ran out. When should they have called their first timeout? The official play-by-play is inadequate because it does not give the starting time for each play prior to the two-minute warning, but I would estimate it should have been called at around 5:45 after Minnesota's 12-yard run by Dunn on second down and ten at the Bucs 28. If the Bucs had followed the advice in my book Football Clock Management on when to call timeouts, they would have called it at the proper time and extended the game another 40 seconds. I cannot say for sure whether that would have meant them winning the game, but they had two more downs and ten yards to go for a first at the Vikings 18 when the game ended. Forty seconds is enough to run as many as seven hurry-up plays that stop the clock. If they had gotten another first down, the maximum number of additional plays they could run after the second-down-at-the-18 play would be six.

I have just been discussing the timeout so far. There is also the issue of whether they were in a hurry-up the whole second half as they should have been. Apparently not. For example, a nine-play Tampa drive in the third quarter took 3:17 or 22 seconds per play. That would be a somewhat slow hurry-up pace if the clock never stopped after any plays, but the clock did stop after four of those plays. So it would appear that Tampa was operating at a leisurely pace when they should have been hurrying and conserving every second. Football is a game of seconds. Every second you waste may be the one you need to win the game.

By the way, I know for a fact that Tampa head coach Tony Dungy has a copy of my book Football Clock Management.

Week 4 continued: Ravens 19, Falcons 13

In this game, which went to overtime, the Falcons kicked a field goal on the last play of the first half. Could the Ravens have prevented that, and thereby avoided OT, by killing clock when they had the lead in the first half?

Baltimore had a four-play drive that started at 5:26 left in the second quarter. It lasted 2:14 or 33.5 seconds per play. That's a partial slowdown. A maximum slowdown ought to use about 45 seconds per play. The Falcons 35-yard field goal came on a snap with :04 left. That was a penalty-enabled rekick of a 40-yard attempt that was wide right. If Baltimore had shaved another ten or twenty seconds off the half by being in a maximum slowdown during that possession, the field goal probably would not have been kicked and the Ravens would have won in regulation.

The Ravens had no other possession during the first half when they were ahead. In the second half, the game was tied at 10:14 left in the fourth quarter, too far from the end of the game for clock management to have prevented the tying field goal.

The Falcons never had the chance to win the game with better clock management, but they did have the chance to win it with a better fourth-down decision which is not clock management per se but is related to clock management.

The AP said Atlanta's Dan Reeves made a "major blunder" with :49 left in regulation by punting instead of trying a 53-yard field goal (inside the Georgia Dome). I agree. Both a field-goal attempt and a punt are scrimmage kicks and therefore equally dangerous. Both can be returned, although the field goal attempt is less likely to be returned. A successful field goal almost certainly wins the game. A punt just gives the opponent a chance to win. The punt was a touchback. An unsuccessful field goal gives the Ravens better field position for the last :49, but not much. I have not read Reeves' explanation. His post-game press conference that is posted on the Net did not discuss it except to say that Falcons kicker Morten Anderson is struggling lately. So let him miss the 53-yarder.

Week 4 continued: Monday Night Football 10/4/99 Buffalo-Miami

The Bills beat the Dolphins 23-18. Did the winning team score at the end of either half? Nope. Did the losing team run out of time at the end of either half? Nope. Miami kicked a fourth-down field goal on the last play of the first half and they did not have possession for the last 2:15 of the game. So this was not a game whose winner could have been changed by better clock management by the loser.

Miami's Jimmy Johnson did call timeout at 2:18 left in the game after a dive play that began with a snap at 2:25. That's a slow reaction to the end of that play. He should have called the timeout at about 2:22 if he was going to call a timeout. It's also incorrect to call a timeout within the 40 seconds before a two-minute warning in the NFL. He should have waited until after the two-minute warning to call that timeout, so he could get full 40-second benefit of it.

Week 4 continued: Redskins 38, Panthers 36

The skins kicked a field goal with :06 left to win. That sure sounds like a game the Panthers could have won with better clock management. The question is did the Panthers waste as much time as possible when they were ahead?

In the second half, the Panthers took the lead 36-35 at 7:57 left in the 4th quarter. Did they have a possession while they were ahead? Yep. The Panthers got the ball back at 5:58 with the score the same. They went three and out. But did they adhere to the slowdown rules during that possession? The possession lasted 1:39. Could the Panthers have made it last longer? No. They were apparently in a maximum slowdown during that possession as they should have been. They had no other second-half possessions when they were ahead.

The Panthers called timeout when they were on offense after their third play of the fourth quarter while the game clock was running. At the time, they were trailing, so they should be in a time-conserving mode. But you do not use timeouts when you are on offense with 14: 40 left in the game. You call timeouts when you are on defense and the opponent is in their slowdown. They were suboptimizing their timeouts by using them in that manner. But the basic idea of conserving time was correct.

The Panthers called their second timeout of the second half when they were on defense, but the Skins were apparently not in a slowdown at the time. That, too is suboptimal, but the Panthers should still have been in a time-conserving mode because they were still behind.

The Panthers called their third timeout at 1:11 left in the game while on defense. This was the only optimal use of a timeout in the second half by the Panthers. At this point, although the Panthers were still ahead, the Skins had passed the field position where they were likely to kick the go-ahead field goal. The Skins had just reached the Panthers 31 making the field goal a 31 + 17 = 48 yarder. Most NFL kickers can hit more than 50% inside 50 yards. That meant the Panthers' win probability was now below 50% so they should go to a time-conserving mode.

If the Panthers had used all three of their timeouts properly, the game would have lasted another 40 seconds or so. That would have given the Panthers that much time to mount a post-kickoff drive to kick their own game-winning field goal, but such a drive would still be unlikely to succeed.

So could the Panthers have avoided this loss with better clock management? No. They were ahead for only a brief period of time and they wasted as much time as they could when they were.

The Skins screwed up their clock management at the end of the game. They ran a dive that lost one yard on 2nd and 9 with :45 left in the game. They then called timeout with :10 left in the game and kicked the go-ahead field goal. That's incorrect. When you want to use a timeout to kick a game-winning field goal, you let the clock go down to :03 before you call time, not :10. The classic example of this mistake is John Elway calling timeout at :08 in the 1982 Cal-Stanford five-lateral kick return game. Because Elway did not wait until :03, his team had to kick off to Cal, who ran it back using five laterals for the game-winning touchdown through the Stanford Band.

After the Skins game-winning field goal, :06 were left. The Skins had to kick off and defend a return plus the Panthers' hook-and-two-lateral play from scrimmage which was snapped at :03. The Panthers' Eric Metcalf was tackled at the Carolina 40 ending the game. He, too, should have lateraled to a teammate or to the ground to "keep hope alive." Those two laterals were smart clock management on the Panthers part, although not enough to win the game.

Week 4 continued: Bears 14, Saints 10

The Bears scored the game-winning touchdown with :07 left in the game. The touchdown-play snap occurred at :12. Could the Saints have killed an additional :12 or more during the second half when they were ahead? Absolutely. They were ahead the entire second half until :07 left in the game. It would appear they had many opportunities to kill off that :12 during the previous 29:48 of the second half.

Crude version of the pertinent clock-management rule Saints violations
Leading team should avoid calling any timeouts when the game clock is running. The Saints called their third timeout at 14:32 in the fourth quarter when the game clock was running. I cannot tell from the official play-by-play how many seconds were left on the play clock at the time. Any play clock time left when they called the timeout helped the Bears win.
Prefer run to pass when equally effective to avoid throwing incomplete passes and stopping the clock when ahead. Saints threw eight incomplete passes while ahead in the second half.
Stay in bounds when ahead. Saints runners went out of bounds three times while they were ahead in the second half. (Clock does not stop in NFL on out-of-bounds play until last five minutes of the game)
Wait until the end of the play clock to call timeout when ahead.  The Saints called their third timeout at 14:23 of the fourth quarter. That was preceded by a the first play of the quarter, a three-yard dive. That dive probably took five seconds at most. The timeout was called 37 seconds after the snap. That may have been before the end of the play clock. I cannot tell from the official play-by-play.
Wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap when ahead. The Saints possessed the ball for 15:10 when they were ahead in the second half. During that time, they ran 39 plays or one play every 23 seconds on average. If they were in a slowdown as they should have been, that average would be up closer to 40 seconds.

This game is an example of poor clock management costing a team a win.

Week 4 continued Giants 16, Eagles 15

Did the Giants score near the end of either half? Yes. The play-by-play shows the Giants kicked a field goal with about :07 left in the half.

Were the Eagles ahead during the first half? Yes, they were up 9-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Did they go to a slowdown when they were ahead? In a drive that started at 12:30, they ran nine plays ending in an interception. The possession lasted 4:54 which is 294 seconds or 294 / 9 = 33 seconds per play. A slowdown would have been more like 40 seconds per play. They were in a medium speed when they should have been in a slowdown. The Eagles also called a timeout during this drive. If they did it at the end of the play clock, it is not the worst idea in the world. But in general, leading teams should not call timeout when the game clock is running. The play before the timeout call was a dive so the clock was running. Had they been in a slowdown, they would have killed 9 x 40 = 360 seconds or 66 seconds more than they actually killed.

The Eagles got the ball again at 3:56. They ran five scrimmage plays and a punt that took 1:39. The punt takes about seven seconds leaving 1:32 for the five plays or 92 / 5 = 18.4 seconds per play. That's not a slowdown. That's a hurry-up pace! In fact, they threw three incomplete passes on that possession. In a slowdown, you should prefer the run to the pass when the play you choose is equally effective at getting the yards you need. Had they run a slowdown, they would have killed 5 x 40 = 200 seconds, 108 more than they did kill.

Did the Giants score near the end of the game? No.

Did the Eagles lose this game because of poor clock management? Yes. They failed to slow down when they were ahead in the first half thereby leaving an extra 66 + 108 = 174 seconds or 2:54 on the game clock. The Giants scored what turned out to be the margin-of-victory field goal at :07.

Every second you leave on the clock when you should be wasting may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.

Week 4 continued Jets 21, Broncos 13

Did the Jets score near the end of a half? No. The play-by-play shows that they scored their final seven points with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter. Furthermore, they had a one-point lead already from a score at 10:52 left in the fourth quarter.

Could the Broncos have killed more than 10:52 when they were ahead in the second half? They had a 4:05 possession that started at 9:27 in the third. They had another that last 1:47 starting just before the fourth quarter. Could they have expanded those 5:52 to 10:52 with better clock management? No. They needed to play better football to win.

Week 4 continued San Diego 21, KC 14

Did San Diego score near the end of either half? Yes. They scored a seven-point touchdown at 1:41 left in the first half. See play-by-play.

Did KC ever have the lead in the first half? You bet. They led until the above-mentioned score tied the game.

Did KC run a slowdown as they should when they were ahead? KC had the ball for 6:18 in the first quarter and 10:57 in the second. Subtracting the 1:41 when the game was tied, KC had the ball for 6:18 + 10:57 - 1:41 = 15:34. During that time of possession, they ran 39 non-turnover scrimmage plays and 8 turnover plays (punts, TDs, fumble). Let's say the turnover scrimmage plays average five seconds each. That's 8 x 5 = 40 seconds. That leaves 14:54 for the other 39 plays. That's 894 seconds / 39 plays = 22.9 seconds per play. That is a hurry-up pace.

Had they run a slowdown pace as they should, they would have killed an additional 39 plays x 17 seconds = 663 seconds or 11:03, more than enough to prevent that SD score at 1:41. Actually, its enough time to prevent both San Diego scores in the second quarter.

In other words, the Chiefs lost the game because they did a lousy job of managing the clock during the first half.

Oddly, neither team used a timeout in the first half. KC should have used their timeouts during their last possession of the first half. They ran ten plays in that drive. After six of them, the clock was still running. The possession ended with an interception as time ran out, but why start that play at :04 when you could have used two timeouts to add about 24 more seconds to the half. I would have saved the third timeout for a field-goal attempt, unless I got a first down within field-goal range. In that case, you could spike the ball on third down to stop the clock.

Summary of NFL Week 4  
Games that were decided by more than 8 points 4
Games decided by 8 or less 10
Games lost because of poor clock management Seattle 22, Oakland 21
Minnesota 21, Tampa 14
Chicago 14, New Orleans 10
New York Giants 16, Philadelphia 15
San Diego 21, Kansas City 14

Here's what I mean when I say the game was lost because of poor clock management: If you replayed the game calling all the same plays and getting the exact results for each play, but changed the clock management decisions, the losing team would have won the game. This is not 20/20 hindsight. The correct clock management principles are listed in my book, Football Clock Management, which was written years before these games occurred. These five teams lost these games because they violated correct clock-management principles.

The 10/18/99 Sports Illustrated wrote about two college "upsets that got away."

Both sound like the coaches who lost read my clock book and were trying to use clock management to win. I have no knowledge that either coach ever heard of me, it just sounds like they were doing garbled versions of what I advocate and relatively few are. NC led GA 24-21 with 1:14 left. It was 4th and goal at the GA two-yard line. GA had no timeouts left. NC coach Torbush figured he should go for the touchdown on the grounds that GA would be unlikely to drive 98 yards if the play failed.

This is similar to the 1995 Army-Navy game only there, Navy was up by 13-7 and there were more than eight minutes left. Navy went for the TD on 4th down instead of the FG. It failed, gave the cadets such an incredible emotional uplift that they marched 99 yards down the field and won the game.

NC coach Torbush made a similar decision with similar results. But let's talk about it.

I did say in my book that you should think twice about scrimmage kicks (field goals or punts) on fourth down. The play is dangerous and sometimes leads to an instant TD by the defense. However, thinking twice does not mean not kicking. In Navy's case, Army was already in a situation where they needed a TD to win. Adding a field goal would have the benefit of forcing Army to score twice to win. However, adding a TD would not have had any incremental benefit above and beyond the field goal benefit because it, too, would have forced Army to score twice.

Torbush was not up by six. He was only up by three. A successful field goal would have put him up by six thereby forcing GA to score a TD to win. So there was a real benefit to NC to succeed with a field goal. In other words, the risk of the blocked kick was probably worth it for the extra three points.

Mathematically, Torbush was right that GA was unlikely to go 98 yards in 1:10, the amount that would be left after the failed TD, if that's what happened. But as in the Army-Navy game, Torbush did not figure on the tremendous emotional uplift to GA of NC failing to get a single point after penetrating to the GA 2. The crowd and trailing team tend to think such a result proves God was on their side and they they are destined to win after all. GA marched down and kicked a FG to tie then won in overtime.

Auburn-Mississippi State

Auburn was ahead of MSU 16-3 with 4:06 left. Auburn coach Tuberville turned the ball over on downs at the MSU 28 rather than attempt a field goal. Tuberville said he thought blocking the field goal and running it back was MSU's only chance to win so he did not want to give them that chance. I agree. Unlike NC in the above game, Auburn already had enough points to be comfortable. Another three points would have required MSU to score three times instead of two, but most teams can prevent their opponent from scoring twice in a four-minute period. The benefit of the successful field goal was not worth the risk of the blocked kick.

MSU drove down and scored a TD making the score 16-10 Auburn.

With :50 left, Tuberville again had fourth down, this time deep in his own territory. He had the punter run out the back of the end zone for a deliberate safety, another tactic I urged in my book. Now the score is Auburn 16, MSU 12. I agree with this decision by Tuberville as well. Both before and after the safety, MSU needs a TD to win. There is little cost to the play, and it lets Auburn do an unblockable free kick. Free kicks travel much farther than punts.

MSU returned the kick then ran four plays culminating in a winning TD at :19.

At that point, MSU was up 18-16. Also in accordance with my book, MSU refused to attempt the extra point, taking a knee instead. I agree with that decision, too. In NCAA, the defense can run the ball back for a two-point TD on an extra point.

I think Tuberville did the right things regarding clock management. But in many cases, clock management decisions are based on probabilities. By definition, any probability other than 100% runs the risk that although you took the course of action most likely to succeed, that still leaves the fact that sometimes, it does not succeed.

I have not seen the official play-by-play, so I do not know how many timeouts the two teams had or how much time was used per play by the leading teams when they had possession. From what I do know, it appears that Tuberville made the right clock decisions, but that he and his team needed one more first down or needed to prevent MSU from getting one more first down. In my clinic, I say that to win football games you have to be able to get first downs and scores and to prevent your opponent from doing the same. Clock management can only change the number of chances you or your opponent has to pursue first downs and scores. Auburn lost in spite of courageous, competent clock management (based on my limited knowledge of the game). They lost because they fell a tad short at being successful moving the ball or stopping the opponent.

Monday Night Football 10/18/99 Cowboys-Giants

At the end of the Dallas-Giants game, the score was tied at 10. The Giants got to about the Cowboy 5-yard line with about 20 seconds left. They should have taken a knee, let the clock run down to :03, called time, then kicked a field goal. Instead, they tried to score a touchdown twice. Why?!!! Aren't three points enough to win? Finally, they took a knee then waited until the clock got down to :05 to call timeout. Read my lips coaches. You call that timeout at :03 or :02, NOT :05 or anything greater than :03. Why? Because the kick play will not use up more than :03 and you will have to kick off after the field goal.

So guess what NY had to do in this game? Kickoff to the Cowboys. They ran a three-lateral kick return which went for a game-winning touchdown, except that the first lateral was an illegal forward pass. The Cowboys were complying with the advice in my book Football Clock Management when they did those laterals (although they may never have heard of me or my book). They failed to give Deion Sanders enough practice at it so he would not do a forward pass. The Giants had the basic idea right finally. But they were wrong to try those two TDs, which also would have required a kickoff to Dallas, and they were wrong to not wait until the clock got to :03.

Apparently, the Giants coaches do not read this page. I discussed that :03 deal up above regarding the Patriots-Jets game.

Thursday Night College Football 11/4/99 Kentucky-Mississippi State

Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme was one of the first to recommend my book, Football Clock Management. He read it while flying to and from an away game in 1997, the year the book came out, and said, "All coaches should read this book." During my two clinics for American Football Quarterly, Hal and I became friendly acquaintances.

So I was interested to see how he handled the clock in this close game. In general, he seemed to be following my book. He was ahead and complied with the slowdown rules, waiting until the end of the play clock to snap or call timeouts, staying in bounds, etc. However, on one play, when he should have been in a slowdown near the end of the game, one of his running backs ran out of bounds, stopping the clock. Even the ESPN announcers commented that was a bad thing to do. I suspect Mumme did not want the running back to do that. The Kentucky quarterback seemed angry with the running back.

I do not have the play-by-play to say for sure, but I suspect the one-point, field-goal victory by Mississippi State would not have occurred if that Kentucky running back had stayed in bounds on that one play. Going out of bounds saves about 40 seconds, which is enough time to run about seven hurry-up plays that stop the clock. Had the Kentucky player stayed in bounds, the game would have ended as many as seven plays sooner.

I do not know what Mumme wanted or why the back ran out of bounds, but I can make a generic comment about coaching to prevent that. In general, I think a player makes a mistake like that because he did not get enough repetitions of the situation in practice. It appeared in this case that the quarterback had enough reps. Some players need more reps than others. If you give a player "enough" reps and he still screws it up, then he probably should have not been permitted to carry the ball in that situation. Fundamentally, if a player goes out of bounds when he should not, the coach is responsible.

MSU screwed up when they called timeout for the field-goal attempt. They called it at five seconds. If you have read the articles above, you know this is the third time this season I have been compelled to remind readers that you call that timeout at three seconds, not five. As a result of calling it earlier, they had to kick off to Kentucky after they scored the go-ahead. The kick off was a touchback. Kentucky ran a quasi Hail Mary play which failed. But there was no reason for MSU to risk the kickoff and subsequent play.

By the way, I think it is a mistake for coaches to think that they have to send the ball all the way to the end zone on the fly on the last play of a game. Why not throw a shorter pass and lateral your way to the end zone? I am almost certain that would have a higher success probability than the fly ball to the end zone. You have to get to the end zone in one play. But you do not have to do it all in the air. And you are unlikely to succeed if you try to do it all in the air. I do not know what Mumme called in this game because the quarterback appeared to get hit as he released the ball.

11/5/99 Monte Vista H.S. as. Foothill H.S.

As I was writing the above item, I was watching my local high school on TV. Just before halftime, Monte Vista called a timeout to kick a field goal. But they called it at :07, not :03. The kick was good, but they had to defend a kickoff and scrimmage play before half. Had they waited to :03 to call the timeout as they should, there would have been to kickoff or scrimmage play.

Some college game 11/6/99

Coach had first down at one with little time left and tried to run it in. No timeouts left. He failed and time ran out. But he had enough time to throw a couple of incomplete passes then try the run. Should have done it that way.

Sophisticated strip tackle in Rams game 11/14/99

On page 179 of Football Clock Management, I have a diagram showing how I think teams should tackle to waste time and increase the probability of a strip. While watching clips from various games on Sunday 11/14/99, I saw two Rams execute the exact play I illustrated in that page-179 diagram. According to the play-by-play, the Panthers completed a pass to Wesley Walls for a seven-yard gain. Billy Jenkins and Mike Jones made a moving, stand-up tackle during which Jones stripped the ball, picked it up off the ground, and ran it in for a touchdown.

Not only did the tackle take extra time and result in a successful strip, but the defender picked the ball up instead of falling on it (another tactic I strongly endorse) and ran it in for a touchdown.

I do not take credit for this play. I have no indication my writings had anything to do with it. But I point to it as an example of exactly what I was advocating in Football Clock Management.

Monday Night Football Oakland-Denver 11/22/99

Oakland lost to Denver because of poor clock management. Once again, Oakland coach Gruden scowled his way through most of the game with a facial expression that seemed to say he cannot believe how dumb his players are. Maybe his face does not match his thoughts and people who work with him know that. As in the earlier game I analyzed, if anyone had the right to that expression, it is his players. They played well enough to win this game, but lost because their head coach did not manage the clock correctly.

Did Denver score near the end of either half? Yes, they tied the game with a 53-yard field goal that was snapped at :12 left in the game. Should Oakland have killed time earlier in the half? Yep. Did they? Not as much as they should.

According to the play-by-play, the game was tied at 15 with 14:04 left in the third quarter. You cannot manage the clock in that situation. But at 11:00 left in that quarter, Oakland get within field goal range of a Wheatley run that gained a first down at the Denver 26. Since that is within field-goal range and the game is tied, Oakland's win probability was then above 50%. When your win probability goes above 50%, you must go to a slow down (exceptions for last possession of the first half and last possession of the game if you are down by 8 or less).

Did Oakland go to a slow down at that time? I cannot tell from the play-by-play if they waited until the end of the play clock to snap. They missed the 37-yard kick a field goal. 20/20 hindsight says its a good thing they did not slow down, but the decision to slow down was based on probability. It was the right thing to do at the time even though the field goal subsequently failed. If the Raiders did not wait until the end of the play clock for the four downs after the run to the Broncos' 26, failure to do so may have cost them the game.

There's more. They got the ball back at their own 20 at 6:47 left in the third quarter with the score the same. On the sixth play of the drive, Oakland got inside field-goal range. Once again, this raised their win probability above 50% meaning they should immediately go to a slowdown. The possession involved nine non-fourth-down plays and one fourth-down play, a field goal. When you are in a slowdown, you should be taking about 40 seconds per non-fourth-down play. Field-goal plays take about three seconds. 9 x 40 = 360 seconds plus 3 seconds = 343 seconds or 5:43. In fact, the possession lasted 5:21. That's maybe :22 left on the clock. Not bad. Remember Denver tied the game at :12 left in regulation.

Oakland called a timeout at 1:51 left in the third quarter during this drive. The clock-management rule is that you should not call timeout when your win probability is greater than 50%, but if you must, at least wait until the end of the play clock. I cannot tell from the official play-by-play if they waited until the end of the play clock to call this timeout. But because the possession lasted almost as long as it could, it would appear that they did wait until near the end of the play clock. I cannot complain much about this possession, at least without knowing the time left on the play clock for each snap and when the timeout was called.

Oakland got the ball back at 13:11 left in the fourth quarter. The possession was three and out. It should have lasted 3 x 40 = 120 + 6 (punt) = 126 seconds or 2:06. It actually lasted 1:30. It would appear that the Raiders were in a bit of a hurry even though they were up 18-15. It appears that Oakland unnecessarily left 36 seconds on the game clock in this possession when they should have been wasting the max. Remember, Denver tied the game with just :12 left in regulation.

Oakland got the ball back at 10:04 on their own 8. They ran five non-fourth-down plays then punted. That could have taken 5 x 40 = 200 seconds + 6 = 206 seconds or 3:26. In fact, the possession took 2:56. That's :30 left on the clock. Once again, every second you leave on the game clock when you should be wasting time may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.

Denver tied the game at around 4:10. Oakland had a three-and-out possession in which they could not manage the clock because they did not know which direction to manage it.

In the first play after the two-minute warning, Denver fumbled back to their own 20. On third down, Griese rushes for no gain. Oakland calls their second timeout at 1:54. The best time to call timeouts is when your opponent is in their slowdown offense. Given their field position, Denver's win probability was slightly below 50%. I think this was a good use of a timeout by Oakland. They were behaving as if they were in a hurry. This would be based on a last-possession-of-the-half rationale.

In your last possession of the game, when you are down by 8 or less, you follow a pace graph which is in my book Football Clock Management. Basically, that graph is a schedule which delivers you to the game-winning score so that little or no time remains on the clock for your opponent to come back. In the case of a tie game, you must decide whether you have a greater probability of scoring in regulation or of winning in OT. If you think your chances are better in OT, you just kill clock in regulation. If you think your chances are better in regulation, you go to whatever schedule delivers you to the go-ahead score around 0:00. Oakland figures to get the ball near midfield with around 1:40 left so they figure they need to be in a hurry-up. I agree.

Oakland got the ball at 1:42 at the Denver 35. This is just two yards from the 50% field-goal-success point for the average NFL kicker. Accordingly, their notion that they needed to be in a hurry-up, which made sense before the long punt return, now is wrong. The pace graph says they now need to go to a maximum slowdown. They only need to gain about ten or fifteen yards to have a greater than 50% success probability of kicking a field goal. I know you would like to get closer, but you need to be careful that you do not do anything dumb, like fail to operate in a slow down mode, in the process.

After a run up the middle by Wheatley, Denver called their first timeout at 1:29. Smart. Although the play started at 1:37. Dives don't take eight seconds. Denver was a little slow on the timeout trigger or the refs were slow to respond. Oakland should be in a slowdown and the opponent should do the opposite, including calling an immediate timeout after a play.

On 2nd & 6 at the Denver 26, Oakland threw an incomplete pass. Ouch! What did they do that for? From the Denver 26, they have a 26 + 17 = 43-yard field goal. Two running plays that averaged four yards each would cut that to 35 yards and forced Denver to use its last two timeouts.

Then they did it again on third down! Another incomplete pass. You do not throw incomplete passes when you are supposed to be in a slowdown. You do not take chances when you are already in field-goal range in a tie game.

The 43-yard field goal was good at 1:24. Now it's Oakland 21, Denver 18. Denver returns the kick to their 29. They start with 1:17 and two time outs left.

Denver then drove down the field and kicked the tying field goal. They won in OT.

Oakland did a number of things wrong, but the salient one is calling two pass plays on second and third down when they were already within field goal range in a tie game. The clock rule is when you are in a slowdown, prefer the run to the pass when each is equally effective. That is, you only pass when no running play is likely to get you where you need to go. Where did Oakland need to go with 1:29 left? Nowhere, really. Getting a little closer would be nice, but not enough to risk giving the other team more than a minute and two timeouts to come back at you.

If they had run two running plays, they probably would have gained four to eight yards and forced Denver to use its last two timeouts. They would then have kicked a field goal to take the lead with about 1:20 and no Denver timeouts left.

Denver used those two timeouts to stop the clock after pass plays of 8 and 6 yards. Without those timeouts, those plays would have used about an additional twelve seconds each or 24 seconds. If the game ends 24 seconds sooner, Jason Elam has to kick from the Oakland 38, a 38 + 17 = 55-yard field goal. The kick looked like it would have made it from that distance. But your confidence is a little lower at 55 yards and when you combine these 24 seconds with the seconds that could have and should have been wasted earlier in the half, Oakland could have ended the game around the time they kicked their own go-ahead field goal, in which case they win the game.

Mississippi-Mississippi State 11/25/99

Exciting finish to this game. MSU kicked the game-winning field goal leaving :03 on the clock. This seems to be the year for leaving time on the clock after your game-winning field goal, which is a clock-management mistake. I was not paying close attention to the game, but it appeared that it was not fourth down, so Mississippi State should have run an out-of-bounds play or a dive or a take-a-knee depending upon whether they had a timeout to get the clock down to :03 before the field-goal attempt.

Mississippi tried to do a multiple-lateral kick return, which is correct clock-management. But the last guy who got the ball ran down the sideline and allowed himself to be knocked out of bounds after time had expired. He should have lateraled to a teammate or to the ground----somewhere, anywhere! Whatever you do, don't let yourself be tackled or knocked out of bounds when your team is behind and the clock has run out. I call this the "Keep hope alive" play. The final ball carrier in this case could have kept hope alive by lateralling, but he failed to. His team probably would not have won if he had done the right thing, but at least they would have had a slim chance. By keeping the ball, he killed all hope. I suspect Mississippi did not give their players enough reps of this multiple-lateral play so that all the ball carriers would understand that they must never allow themselves to be tackled or knocked out of bounds after the clock has expired.

Also, MSU got penalized for an excessive celebration before the kickoff, so Mississippi had a 15-yard shorter path to a game-winning TD return. The classic multiple-lateral kickoff return to win in the 1982 Cal-Stanford game was also set up by an excessive-celebration penalty against Stanford after they kicked what appeared to be the game-winning field goal. Coaches need to start practicing not excessively celebrating after the apparent game-winning score. Team after team has subjected themselves to this stupidity. I am serious when I say the teams must practice.

Silicon Valley Bowl, 12/31/00

My son and I attended the Silicon Valley Bowl today and saw Air Force beat Fresno State in an exciting game. I was anxious to attend in person, because watching on TV prevents you from seeing most of the clock action.

I keep thinking that my book and my articles in American Football Quarterly got coaches thinking the right way regarding clock management. I saw some improvement over before my book came out in 1997, but in general, I was appalled at both Air Force and Fresno State clock management. Mind you, these are two well-coached teams in general. The game came down to the next-to-last play. Fresno State was down 37-34 and on the Air Force 16-yard line. On fourth down with :14 left in the game, they lined up for a field goal. It was a fake. Two guys were open in the end zone, but the holder overthrew them.

Air Force scored on their first possession as I recall, and led the whole game thereafter. That means Air Force should have been a slowdown for the whole game with the possible exception of the end of the first half when you either try to score before half time or prevent your opponent from doing so. That last possession of the half could require either a hurry up or a slowdown or something in between.

One of the slowdown rules is wait until the end of the play clock to call for the snap or a time out. Air Force called one time out when the game clock was running and did it correctly at the end of the play clock. But when it came to snapping the ball, they appeared oblivious to the play clock. Here is how much time was left on the play clock for a bunch of Air Force snaps: 4, 10, 16, 13, 11, 6, 10, 7, 8, 3, 16, 6, 12, 6, 3, 7, 5, 9, 12, 11, 7, 12, 11, 7, 4, 5, 9, 8, 15, 10, 4, 6, 4, 9, 10, 2, 5, 4, 8, 3, 5, 9, 5, 2, 5. What is the amount that should have been left on the clock for those snaps? Ideally, 0. To avoid delay penalties, 1 or 2. How many times did they violate that simple rule of clock management? All but two times in this list. If you will add all these numbers, then subtract 2 x that many snaps, you will see how much time Air Force unnecessarily left on the game clock. Actually, it was more. I did not keep track on every down.

So all that sweating they were doing in the fourth quarter was unnecessary. Had they killed clock like they should have all along, which was a very easy and simple thing to do, the game would have ended several minutes before the nerve-wracking fake field goal play.

The Silicon Valley Bowl clock operator was incompetent. You can tell you have an incompetent operator when the ref as to keep using his public address microphone to ask that the clock be changed. One of his stunts was to run off :04 during a P.A.T. play! My book says to make sure you have a competent clock operator at your home games and to watch the opposing clock operator at away games.

Referee ball placing time (time between end of play and ready-to-play signal) ranged from 9.9 seconds to 28.8 seconds.

Air Force once called a time out with :13 left on the play clock because the QB was having trouble having his audibles heard. Why not just wander around telling everyone the play? :13 is a lot of time.

Air Force stopped the clock several times with incomplete forward passes toward the end of the game when it was finally obvious to everyone that they should be killing time. I don’t say you never pass when you are in a slowdown. Sometimes you have to but one of the forward passes was an option pitch. That was unnecessary.

Fresno State did some good clock stuff. They used two time outs in the fourth quarter to prevent AF from doing their slowdown. That’s quite correct. But they kept the third time out in reserve. That was wrong. They should have used all three to stop AF from killing max time with their slowdown offense.

The big clock story of the game was Fresno's spikitis. In their next to last series (four downs), they spiked the ball to stop the clock—on a 1st & 10 play! Jesus that’s dumb! The clock is stopped to move the chains. Use that time to call your audible play then snap the ball as soon as the ref lets you. That would use almost exactly the same amount of time as a spike, but the play would be far more likely to gain yards than a spike.

Also, when you stop the clock for a last play field goal attempt, you wait until it gets down to :03. You do not stop in a panic at :14. Had they kicked the field goal and it been good, they would have had to kick off to Air Force and probably would have had to defend one or two scrimmage plays. You do not put yourself in a position where you have to do that unnecessarily.

In the final series, they spiked the ball two out of four downs! I believe the first such spike was also after a play that gained a first down, thereby causing the clock to stop to move the chains. All the time they were doing this spiking, they still had one time out! In fact, on the fourth down of the final series, they both spiked the ball and called time out!!! There were still 14 seconds left on the clock, Had they refrained from those two spikes, they could have had two more shots at the end zone. If they had used that time out back when they should have, on defense, there would have been about another 35 to 40 seconds left in addition to the 14 at the end.

Fresno State also failed to be in a hurry up for the whole game (possible exception just before half) as they should. The amount of time left on the play clock when they snapped should have been about 23 or 24 seconds. Instead it was 3, 6, 11, 2 11, 5, 3, 12, 7, 7, 5, 15, 14, 21. Amazingly, Fresno State, who should have been in a hurry up, did a better job of running a slowdown than Air Force, who should have been in a slowdown. That is, on average, Fresno State took more time off the clock with each snap than Air Force did, the exact opposite of what they should have been doing!

In addition to spikitis, Fresno State also seemed to be suffering from audiblitis. But Air Force was suffering from audiblitis far more than Fresno. Has anyone ever done a study of the success rate of audible plays and plays run after time outs? I have not run any numbers, but it appears to me that the average audible or post-time out play sucks in terms of its results. Also, audibles are not a sensible thing to do when they are inaudible. Teams need some sort of visual signals to replace “audibles.” The Silicon Valley Bowl stadium was packed, mostly with FSU fans. They stayed the whole game and were sophisticated enough to know to cheer when Air Force was calling a play, but Air Force continued to call audibles on almost every play, in spite of the fact that some players seemed not to know what play they were running at times.

In basketball and volleyball, coaches use time outs to break up the rhythm of opponents who are doing well on offense. It’s very effective. Why do that to yourself? The only time you spike is on third down before a field goal attempt when you have no time outs. For all other occasions, you should have one or more quick plays to be used when you would have spiked in the past.

When I was in the Army, I was appalled at the waste, inefficiency, and incompetence I saw. I wondered how we ever won a war. Then I realized that our military opponents all also used government bureaucracies to run their armies. So it was with Air Force and Fresno State. My son made the comment that the clock-management incompetence of one team was offset by the clock-management incompetence of the other. Had Air Force managed the clock even a little more competently, they would have had an easy victory. Had Fresno State managed the clock a little better, they may not have won, but they would have had far more time at the end to try to do so.

Throw out of bounds

[email from a reader] I have a suggestion which I believe is a legal tactic, but which I don't believe I have seen you mention -- please correct me if I am wrong. Why don't players simply throw the ball out of bounds when they can't make out-of-bounds in situations in which they need to preserve time on the clock? The players themselves don't need to get out of bounds, only the ball does. As long as the throw is backwards or is a lateral, I believe the tactic is legal under current rules. But even throwing the ball forwards would stop the clock, though a spot-of-the-foul penalty would be absorbed. What do you think?

[Response from John T. Reed: My Web site mentions throwing it out the back of the end zone, which is a safety.

Throwing it forward after you have crossed the line of scrimmage is an illegal forward pass. Throwing a legal forward pass out of bounds could be considered to be intentional grounding in high school. In college and the NFL, it would depend upon whether the passer, who could be any player on the offense, complied with the various throw-the-ball-away rules. If you throw it backward, the next spot is where it went out of bounds, so that would lose yards. Throwing it sideways would appear to neither lose yards nor constitute an illegal forward pass.

At the college level, deliberately throwing the ball out of bounds to stop the clock is illegal (NCAA Rule 7-2-1). There appears to be no such rule in H.S. or the NFL.

In the last two minutes of an NFL half, “unusual action” to conserve time is penalized five yards and ten seconds are taken off the clock. Although ten seconds is less than what it usually takes to get lined up for the next play, so other than the penalty, and situations where there are less than 11 seconds left in the half, you are probably better off with the ten-second penalty than with the clock running.

For high school, college, and the rest of an NFL game, the question is whether such a backward pass would constitute delay of the game. If you had a target receiver for the lateral and he missed, I suspect there would be no penalty. But if it were an intentional grounding sort of backward pass, it might trigger the various delay-of-game penalties (H.S. Rules 3-6-2 f and 3-6-3; NCAA Rule 3-4-3 Unfair Game-Clock Tactics; NFL Rule 4-3-9). However, the penalties would appear to be inadequate in that they move the ball back five yards, but never take time off the clock above and beyond what time would have been taken off had the player been tackled inbounds. The ref is directed to start the game clock on the ready-to-play signal after each of these violations. That’s supposed to be punishment, but it’s not because the clock would have continued to run throughout the ball-placing time if the ball had not been lateraled out of bounds.
John T. Reed]

Division III national championship 12/15/00

There were a couple of clock issues in the Division III national championship which I just watched. In the second half, St. Johns had fourth and one, got a delay penalty, and had to punt. Dumb. At the end of the game with the score tied, Mount Union ran to the three-yard line, let the clock run down to :04, then called a time out. Also a little dumb. They need to let it run down to :03 or less, not :04. Their field goal attempt was good. Predictably, they celebrated on the field, and drew a 15-yard penalty. Their head coach was out on the field trying to stop the celebration. Too little too late. He should have stopped it in practice. The resulting 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, combined with the fact that :01 remained on the clock after the field goal, could have cost Mount Union the national championship. In the event, it did not. Mount Union kicked a squib kick. In my opinion, it should have been an onside kick. St. Johns tried to do a multiple-lateral return. That’s the right idea, but it did not look like they had practiced it much. One of their laterals was intercepted. The interceptor tried to run with the ball. That was incorrect. He should have immediately taken a knee. He was tackled. He should have been stripped. Mount Union won.

Premature celebration costs team a playoff game

On 11/25/00, Central College of Iowa was down by three points in overtime. They attempted a 38-yard field goal to tie. The kicker slipped and kicked the ball into the offensive line. Linfield instantly celebrated their victory in the second round of the Division III playoffs. Just one problem, though: muffing or blocking a kick does not end the play. While Linfield was celebrating, complete with fans on the field, Central College’s center Reid Evans picked up the botched kick and, as he was being tackled, handed it to fullback Joe Ritzert, who ran it 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Final score: Central College 20, Linfield 17. There was a similar story in Football Clock Management regarding Thomas More College.

I am old school. I have zero tolerance for on-field, during-game celebrations. It has gotten so bad that practice scripts ought to prescribe a way of behaving after a successful important play. For example, you might script an end-of-game situation where a touchdown and two-point conversion wins the game. You need to make sure the player who scores the touchdown is not taking a victory lap when he is needed for the two-point play. Matter of fact, since players do not celebrate in practice, you probably need to force them to do it both the wrong way and the right way. First time through in practice, tell them to celebrate their asses off if they score. Be creative. Let it all hang out.

Then chalk them about the need to hold all game celebrations until after the final whistle—not horn. Then redo the touchdown play without the celebration. This is especially true of blocked field goal attempts. Special-teams coaches must make sure their players complete the blocked-kick play, which means pick up and advance the blocked kick, or at least recover it, which is what you should do when you have reached the take-a-knee point. You should also practice waiting until the final whistle and then celebrating. It’s dumb that this is necessary. But TV and lax discipline and rules in college and the NFL have made it necessary. The XFL will make it more necessary. Do not be intimidated by the “Oh, let ’em have fun” argument. And never let the words “Act like you’ve been there before” pass your lips. Those words may have worked when you played. But they don’t work anymore. You now need different words, maybe, “Sean, do that again and you are suspended for one week! Capeche?”

Because fans often get on the field, you may need to coach your fans as well. Some may protest that they have no control over the fans. Well, you’d better get some because you will be penalized for their behavior and could even lose a game because of it. In the famous 1982 Stanford Band Game, Cal declined a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for the Stanford Band marching onto the field before the play was over. Had Cal not scored the game-winning touchdown on the play, they would have accepted the penalty and Stanford would have had to rekick from half the distance to the goal. Stanford had already had to kick off on the final play from 15 yards deeper than normal because of the Stanford players’ excessive celebration after their successful field goal to take the lead.

This incident also illustrates my principle of never allowing yourself to be tackled on the last play of the game when you are trailing by eight or less. You must always lateral, even to the ground if no teammate is available.

Wind considerations

Here is an email I got from a reader:

here are two strategic alternatives that teams may choose to employ when wind speed is likely to significantly impact field position.

1) team "a" wins coin toss and selects to defend the goal with the wind at their backs. team "b" must now choose whether to receive or kickoff. I would guess that 99% of teams faced with this decision would opt to receive without giving much, if any, consideration to kicking off. my position is this: if you have serious concerns about your ability to move the football offensively due to the quality of your offense, the quality of the defense you are facing, and/or the wind itself, you should kickoff. the explanation is simple: would you rather punt into a severe wind from your own goal line after a three and out? or, kickoff from the 35-yard line and thereby drive the ball deep into the opposition's territory?

[Response from John T. Reed: Interesting. I guess the key principle is that one can kickoff better into the wind than one can punt into the wind. Also that you are likely to have a better field position for a kickoff than for a punt after a kick return of a wind-at-the-kicker’s back kickoff followed by three offensive plays. I am told that punters should punt at a low trajectory when punting into the wind. Place kicks, including kickoffs, come off the foot at a low trajectory. I would ask my punters and kickers to experiment during a windy-day practice to confirm this theory. If true, it might make sense. But it is really a rather complex equation. Another theory is to hold down the number of offensive plays your opponent gets with the wind at their back. In that case, you would choose to receive the kickoff because you can control the ball on offense if you can get first downs.

The wind affects balls in the air: kicks and passes. It does not affect the running game. A team with a strong running game should be less concerned about the wind, IF it could get first downs against the defense in question. The wind mainly affects teams that rely heavily on the pass or who cannot get their first downs, therefore necessitating punts. In order to make a decision on the kickoff, you need to figure out whether you can get your first downs with the wind in your face. If so, you should receive in the above situation. If you cannot get first downs with the wind in your face, you are probably going to lose that half of the game and you had better manage the clock to make sure that half of the game has far fewer plays.]

2) you have just taken possession of the ball with a "field position" impact wind at your back and are deep in your own territory (let's say inside of your own 30-yd line) with little time (let's say two minutes or less) left in either the first or third quarter. my position is this: if for whatever reason, you think it is unlikely that you will have success moving the ball, then you should make sure that you are able to punt with the wind before the quarter expires. in fact, why not punt on 1st or 2nd down (if necessitated by time on the clock) if you have already determined that the wind speed is a major factor governing field position in the game? furthermore, even if your offense has moved the ball with some success, a well executed punt on any down would theoretically pin the opposition deep in their own territory as the 2nd or 4th quarter commences. about the quick-kick? seldom used, but definitely a weapon even if wind is not a factor provided you have a skill position player that can execute the kick properly.

[Response from John T. Reed: I agree. The quick kick, which should be used far more often in general, makes the most sense with a stiff wind at your back. Readers of my youth football coaching books know that I am a big advocate of what I call a “fourth-down quick kick,” that is, punting from your regular offensive formation on fourth down after giving the opponents a look that made them think you were going for it.

The importance of field position is a function of the two teams’ ability to drive in the game in question. If a team can drive in the game, field position is meaningless unless the amount of time remaining in the half is so short that they do not have time to score. So the quick kick against a team that can drive is only useful if the time remaining in the half is too little to enable the driving team to go the resulting distance. If a team cannot drive in the game in question, field position is probably the only way they can score.

In the old days, when final scores were typically 3-0 or 7-6, teams routinely punted on first, second or third down, even when the other team knew they were going to do so. As those low scores indicate, those teams could not drive. Their only hope of scoring was to get possession near the opponent’s goal line. Their only hope of moving the ball long distances was with their foot. If you are such a team in the modern era, you are probably in for a long season, but you increase your win probability by using quick kicks and the wind to move the ball, and by managing the clock so that the number of plays when you have the wind at your back is increased and vice versa.]


Here’s an email I received from a reader: The Michigan-Northwestern game provided a classic example of a principle that I believe you mentioned in your book about the importance of differentiating between more and enough. After a defensive goal line stand by Michigan, Anthony Thomas got the handoff with the lead in the last minute of game. He got the first down. He should have slid or knelt at that point. Instead, he seeing nothing but green grass ahead of him, he dreamed of further glory, and had the ball stripped from behind. Northwestern scored and won 54-51.

Illegal spike-the-ball formation

The clock is running out. The offense trails by one score. The quarterback needs to spike the ball, but one or more of his players cannot get into legal position before the snap. What should he do? Snap the ball and take the penalty. The alternative is to lose the game. You generally want to avoid penalties, but not always. Sometimes, as when a defensive back deliberately commits interference to save a touchdown, you should proceed even though you know that doing so will result in a penalty. End-of-half spikes are a classic example of a situation where stopping the clock is more important that worrying about penalties. In the NFL, an “unusual action” to conserve time in the last two minutes of a half results in a five-yard penalty and, if it was the offensive team, taking ten seconds off the clock. But if the alternative is to let time run out, spike the ball. There may be offsetting penalties or the officials may not see the illegal formation. Letting the clock run out surely has no merit.

USC-Colorado 9/9/00

At the end of this game, USC had 1st and 10 within field goal range. The game was tied and there were about 20 seconds left. USC had no time outs left. USC went ahead and kicked the go-ahead field goal. That’s incorrect. They should have taken a knee on first down then immediately lined to run the spike-the-ball play. The quarterback should have waited until the clock got to :04 then called for the snap and spiked the ball. Then there would be :02 or :03 left for the field goal attempt on third down. The field goal would kill all the remaining time. By doing it the way they did, they had to kickoff to Colorado. Colorado tried a Cal-Stanford or Titans-Bills style lateral kick return which used all the remaining time and USC won. But there should not have been any time left after the field goal. That’s how Stanford lost that famous five-lateral-kick-return game. They called time out too soon before their go-ahead field goal attempt and had to kick off.

This mistake is constantly made at the college and NFL levels. (It’s made at lower levels, too, but field goals are always an adventure at those levels.) Why is beyond my comprehension. These coaches get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to know what they are doing. But they still cannot learn a simple thing like letting the clock run down to :04 before a last-minute field-goal attempt.

Seahawks-Rams 9/10/00

The same mistake I just discussed in the USC-Colorado game was made by the Rams in their game against the Seahawks.

High school first-score stats

In Football Clock Management, I noted that the team that scored first won the game 84% of the time during the 1994 NFL season. A Wisconsin high school coach, John Sterner computed the statistics for first score and the correlation to win. These stats were taken from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the course of the 1999 season. 211 times the team who scored first went on to win out of a total of 262 games for a percentage of 80.5%.

My point is that you should manage the clock starting with the first offensive play of the game because, throughout the game, you almost always have a good idea who is going to win the game, and therefore want to run out the clock. If I told you there was an 80.5% probability of a pass on a given play when you were on defense, you would darned sure call a pass-oriented defense for that play. By the same token, if I tell you there is an 80.5% probability that you will be wanting to run time off the clock later in the game, you darned sure should be running it off now. The only exception is certain end-of-first-half situations when you decide you want to try to score before half-time and the time and distance remaining in the half require a hurry-up.

1/2/00 Raiders-Chiefs—Kicking a field goal on third down

In several games in recent years, teams have kicked a winning field goal on a down other than fourth when there was time to run another play or two before attempting the field goal. The announcers usually explain that this is to give the offensive team a second chance if they foul up the snap or hold. Is that smart clock management?

My book, Football Clock Management, emphasizes the principle of not going for more when you already have enough. Running a regular play might get you closer or even a touchdown. But by definition, in these situations three points is enough to win, so there is no point in scoring six or seven. Furthermore, the probability of scoring a touchdown is always relatively low, even if you are inside the ten-yard line, so you cannot wait until fourth down to try to score. With a field goal on the other hand, the probability of success is high inside the 50-yard range, so a team can run the clock down to three seconds then kick the field goal on fourth down.

In the Raiders game, the only reason to run a non-kick play on third down would be to get closer to the goal posts. Getting closer does increase the probability of success, but the closer you get, the less it affects the already high probability. Nedney's kick only traveled 33 yards. In 1998, the NFL average success rate between 30 and 39 yards was .850.; between 20 and 29 yards, .962. If you interpolate, moving from 33 yards to, say, 30, with a running play would only increase the success probability by about .905 - .877 = .028. Why risk it for such little benefit? Every play risks a fumble turnover, especially in this situation where the defense will emphasize stripping the ball.

So Oakland did the right thing, but not for the reason stated by the announcers. The probability of a bad or fumbled long snap is quite low. The purpose of going on a down earlier than fourth, when you have time for more downs, is simply to avoid the turnover risk of a scrimmage play that tries to advance the ball.

It should be noted that during regulation, you would run the clock down to :03 before attempting the field goal, if you could. But this kick took place during sudden-death overtime, so the time "left on the clock" after the score was meaningless.

1/2/00 Running up the score

One of the most bizarre clock-management scenarios in history occurred on 1/2/00. The Packers and Panthers and Dallas were fighting it out for a playoff berth. If Dallas won, they got it. But if Dallas lost, whether the Panthers or Packers got it would depend on which scored the most points.

Apparently monitoring the other games second by second, the Panthers and Packers both ran up the score against opponents. Fans in the stadium probably were wondering what possessed the Panthers and Packers coaches. The Packers beat the Cardinals 49-24 and the Panthers beat the Saints 45-13, yet they were running hurry-ups near the end of the game when they were way ahead! When the Cowboys subsequently beat the Giants, the scores of the Panthers and Packers games no longer mattered.

Did the Panthers and Packers coaches do the right thing clockwise? Yeah, I suppose. In fact, they should have been considering running up the score all season.

But they ought to change that rule. There should never be a rule that encourages running up the score. I prefer tie breakers like adding the losses of the opponents you did not have in common with the other teams in the tie to your own win-loss record. The object of the game is to score more points than your opponent on the field. Running up the score should never be the goal. What happened in the Panthers-Packers situation was a travesty.

Clock screw-ups in Bills' loss to Titans 1/8/00

All season long I have been harping in Football Clock Management News about letting the clock run down to :03 before you kick an end-of-half field goal. On 1/8/00, in the Wild-Card playoff game, Bills coach Wade Phillips broke that rule.
With :20 left in the game, the Bills were down 13-15 to the Titans. The Bills had just completed a pass for a first down and went out of bounds to stop the clock. Also, the Titans called their first time out after the play. With first and ten at the Titans 23, the Bills kicked a go-ahead field goal. Although the Bills had no time outs left, they still should have run one or two dive plays, then a spike-the-ball play at :03. At the very least, that would have forced the Titans to use their two remaining time outs. The Titans should not have called time out after the play that gained the first down because the clock was already stopped by the play.
If the Titans called time out after each of the two dive plays, the clock would have been down to about :13. That assumes that the Titans were very quick to use the time outs and the officials and clock operator were very quick to respond to the Titans' requests. The third-down, spike-the-ball play would have taken it down to about :10. The fourth-down field goal would have taken the time remaining down to about :06 for the ensuing kickoff. Although it is also possible that those six seconds would have been consumed between the ends of the plays and the granting of the time outs.
That kickoff-return play was a hand-off followed by a backward pass for the game-winning touchdown. The touchdown was actually scored at :03 so the Titans had to kickoff to the Bills, but the Bills were unable to score before time ran out.
The Titans actually made a clock-management mistake on the touchdown kick return. The ball carrier was all alone and protected by three or four blockers as he approached the goal line. He should have stopped at the one-yard line and waited until a bad guy got almost near enough to touch him, then stepped across the goal line. That probably would have wiped out those last three seconds and thereby eliminated the need to defend the Bills' kick return. Half the players in the NFL already slow as they approach the goal line to taunt the other team. They can easily learn to do it to kill clock.
The Bills lateraled multiple times in the final play of the game, as they should, but not enough and not successfully. I call that the keep-hope-alive play and it must be practiced so it goes better than it did with the Bills. There is a whole chapter on the final-play-of-the-game lateral in my book, Football Clock Management.
On that kickoff return, which everyone knew would be the final play of the game, the ball carrier must never allow himself to be tackled. Rather he must lateral to a teammate or to the ground. The Bills sort of did that, but the last Bills ball carrier held on too long.
Another question, however, is did the Bills kill as much clock as they should have earlier in the second half or was it unavoidable that they had to kick off to the Titans after their go-ahead field goal? The Bills should have been killing clock when they were ahead. They took the lead 13-12 at 11:08. They got the ball back at 7:29 still ahead. They went three and out giving the ball back at 6:15. Could they have made that possession last another :06, thereby preventing the kickoff to the Titans and losing the game?
The first- and second-down plays were runs that should have taken about :45 each for a total of 2 x :45 = 90
seconds. The third-and-eight play was an incomplete pass, stopping the clock. When you are in a slowdown, you should prefer the run to the pass, if both plays are equally effective at gaining the first down. Few teams have a running play that is as effective as a pass for gaining eight yards. But even an incomplete pass should take about six seconds. The fourth-down punt play would have taken about seven seconds for a total of 103 seconds or 1:43.
In fact, the Bills only took 7:29 - 6:15 = 1:14 off the clock. That means they left at least :29 on the clock
unnecessarily, probably by calling for the snap too soon. The Titans used :06 of that :29 to beat the Bills.
Football is a game of seconds. Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one that your
opponent uses to beat you.

After the game, the Bills fired their special teams coach, Bruce DeHaven. That's not right. I do not know anything about DeHaven, but a couple of NFL coaches told me they thought he was the best special teams coach in the League. I agree that he screwed up on the lateral touchdown play, but you don't fire the best special teams coach in the NFL for one mistake. Plus, defending kick returns is difficult. But any head coach could have easily eliminated that kick return by running :16 more seconds off the clock in the second half. The firing sounds like an attempt to use a scapegoat to deflect attention away from the much more important and much less excusable clock-management screw-ups. DeHaven was hired by the 49ers.

Peyton Manning fake spike 1/16/00

In a game against the Titans, Peyton Manning faked a spike, including pumping his arm downward after receiving the snap. When Dan Marino did his famous fake-spike play in 1994, he only indicated before the snap that it would be a spike. Mannings extra fake is apparently legal, but it faked out not only the opposing team, but also the officials, they inadvertently blew the play dead. I assume that in the future, they will be slower to blow the whistle on such plays.

Manning is known for the quality of his fakes, but one of the occupational hazards of good faking is having some of your plays blown dead prematurely. The best offense for fakes is the single wing with the spinning fullback. One of the banes of coaches who run that offense is great plays that are blown dead when the faking ball carrier is tackled. (Another is fooling your team cameraman.)

Two-point stance

Truman State offensive coordinator Keeth Matheny gave me an idea for the slowdown. Put your offense in a two-point stance and line up ready to go. Be able to start a play from the two-point stance. Many, if not most, opponents, will then get into their three- or four-point stances. Then you wait as the play clock runs out. They will get tired. Your players will not.

Division II national championship 2000

I have heard that the game between Carson-Newman and NW Missouri State involved an interesting clock finish. Have not yet researched it.

Premature celebrations

In the Miami-Jacksonville blowout in Week 19 of the 1999 NFL season, premature celebration was taken to ridiculous lengths. Here is how the NFL described it at their Web site.

"Two plays later, [Tony] Brackens provided another memory. Sweeping in from the right, he stripped Marino and recovered the fumble. He got up and started strutting, mobbed by teammates who thought the play was over. Noticing Brackens hadn't been touched down, linebacker Bryce Paup shoved his teammate toward the end zone. By the time Brackens figured out what was happening, he had crossed the goal line."

This is an official recap of an NFL game?! It sounds like the rejected script of a Marx Brothers movie. The people in the stadium paid sixty bucks a ticket to see "professionals" and got this? Brackens and the other players on the field for that play get paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to give this kind of effort?

How about we start putting disincentive clauses in player contracts? Every time you stop playing before the whistle, you get fined $5,000. Every personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct or celebration penalty that is confirmed by post-game film review results in a $10,000 fine. If players want to engage in publicity stunts to increase their endorsement income or recognition, and the NFL wants to let them, as it apparently does, at least put in rules that result in that behavior only occurring on the sidelines, not on the field and certainly not during live play.

Sports broadcasters long ago learned not to give free publicity to yahoo spectators who run onto the field. But they routinely show players who are acting in even more juvenile ways on the field. Cut to a replay or a stat chart or back to Howie and Terry or to a commercial—anything but a professional football player acting like an amateur WWF freak. What you tolerate—or broadcast—you encourage.

Do NFL coaches have no authority any more? They used to prohibit players from giving the opponent any "bulletin board material" in the press. Now, their players give the opponent real-time "bulletin board material" after every sack, interception, big play, or touchdown.

Oh, by the way, before you conclude Bryce Paup and the officials were the only guys on the field who knew what they were doing, review NFL Rule 12-1-1. It says, "No offensive player may: (a) assist the runner except by individually blocking opponents for him."

I discussed a number of premature celebrations in Football Clock Management. In the second edition, I will devote a whole chapter to them---from the Oklahoma Sooner Wagon circling the goal post to the Stanford Band to the Shawnee Mission congratulatory handshake to Leon Lett to Tony Brackens and more. In many cases, although not in the Miami-Jacksonville game, they result in the celebrating team losing the game. For example, in a 1993 Thomas More-Defiance (Division III) game, Defiance was up 18-16 when a Defiance player blocked a 23-yard field-goal attempt on the last play of the game. Unfortunately for Defiance, while the guy who blocked the kick was posing and flexing for his sideline, and before the play was blown dead, the Thomas More holder picked up the ball and ran it in for the game-winning touchdown. Celebrate that!

Boomer had it right

People watching Super Bowl XXXIV on TV heard analyst Boomer Esiason make a critical comment about Tennessee's clock management in the final seconds of the Super Bowl. Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels disagreed and Boomer subsequently acknowledged that Al was correct.
No. Boomer got it right the first time.
Tennessee had the ball inside Ram territory trailing 23-16. They had one time out left. With :44 remaining in the game, the Titans got a first down with a middle-of-the-field pass. In the NFL, unlike high school and college, the clock does not stop to move the chains in the last five minutes of the game.
Instead of using their last time out, the Titans chose to stop the clock by spiking the ball. That stopped the clock at :31 and allowed :13 to run off the clock unnecessarily.
Boomer Esiason said he would have used the last time out instead. Al Michaels expressed surprise and said he would keep the time out in his back pocket just "for insurance." Michaels noted that by saving the time out, the Titans could still run one play in the middle of the field.
On page 38 of Football Clock Management, I explicitly denounced the "insurance" theory of time outs. Had the Titans used the time out instead of the spike, they would have saved a certain :13. But whether they would ever need the time out in the ensuing drive is uncertain.
In the classic 1997 Rose Bowl, Ohio State foolishly saved a time out for offense, letting Arizona State run :40 off the clock! But it turned out that OSU never needed the time out during Joe German's legendary last-minute drive to victory. OSU ended up using the time out for the PAT---an untimed down---and it was blocked! Not a very good trade for :40, especially considering they scored the winning TD at just :19.
Back to the 2000 Super Bowl. With 2nd & 10, the Titans threw an incomplete pass. An offside penalty on the play made it 2nd & 5 with :26 left and the clock stopped until the snap.
McNair's next pass hit a not-looking Eddie George in the back of the arm stopping the clock at :22. 3rd & 5.
On the next play, after a long scramble, McNair threw complete to the Rams 11, another middle-of-the-field, first-down play. With the clock still running at the end of the play at :06, the Titans used their final time out. Michaels said they had saved the time out "exactly for a situation like this." "Way to go, Al," was Boomer's response.
Not so fast.
Had the Titans used the time out instead of spiking the ball earlier, the time remaining when the middle-of-the-field pass play ended would have been :19, not :06. Although it could be scary, the Titans
should be able to spike the ball within :19.

Probably would not have run a play over the middle if no time out

Also, the Titans would likely not have run a play over the middle if they had not had a time out remaining. Rather they would have run a side-line play. Being able to go over the middle increase your chances of success, but it also makes you a little lazy about the clock. Michaels treated the over-the-middle play as a sort of act of God and aren't we darned glad we took out "insurance" in case that happened. But over-the-middle plays do not just happen. They are called by the coach. And one does not call them unless one has a time out or it is the last play of the game. Had the Titans called time out at :44, they probably never would have run an over-the-middle play at :22 and Michaels would have been saying to Esiason, "Way to go, Boomer. I guess you were right. They never needed that time out after all."

Spike-the-ball play

The spike-the-ball play needs to be practiced and the team must know that you only need seven men on the line and everyone else motionless. Linemen who are far from the line can simply step off the field. There is no requirement that the offense have eleven on the field.
The spike-the-ball play is the subject of a whole chapter in John T. Reed's book Football Clock Management (as is use of time outs). The 1997 edition of Football Clock Management News tells how Dallas lost a 10/5/97 game when Tackle Erik Williams did not make it to the line of scrimmage after a long gain in time for Troy Aikman's spike at :01. In fact, Williams was not needed at the line of scrimmage. He could have left the field or just frozen in place many yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Using the time out when Boomer said to would also have preserved a down. At the time, the Titans would have had :44 left. You can run as many as eight hurry-up plays that stop the clock in :44. So using a spike instead of a time out cost the Titans :13 (three clock-stopping plays) and a down.
Michaels' saying that the Titans saved the time out exactly for the final play situation may be true, but it fails to acknowledge that the Titans did not know for sure that such a situation would ever occur. Based on what they knew at the time, they should have used their time out rather than spike the ball.
The pertinent clock-management principle is that the Titans should have been in a hurry-up. The reason is they needed to operate on the working assumption that they will score the go-ahead touchdown. A pace graph in Football Clock Management tells the proper pace for the last possession of the game for a team trailing by 8 or less. The pace graph prevents you from scoring too fast or too slow. In this case, the pace graph called for a maximum hurry-up pace.
One of the rules of the hurry-up pace is that you call a time out immediately after the previous play, as Boomer said.
Had the Titans done it Boomer's (and Reed's) way, they would have spiked the ball at the Rams 11-yard line with about :08 left in the game. They then could have run an out-of-bounds, incomplete, or end-zone pass play followed, if necessary, by a run or pass play for their last play of the game. As it was, they had :06 when they ran their final play from the 11-yard line. The difference between :08 and :06 is one more play if you are able to stop the clock after the first play. Presumably, the Titans would not have run a play in the middle of the field if they had :08 rather than :06. Having the opportunity to run two plays instead of one from the eleven would have increased the Titans' win probability, although they probably still would have lost the game because teams who have only two plays left at the eleven generally do not score a touchdown.
The Titans got into the Super Bowl because the Bills screwed up clock management on their first-down field goal at :16, thereby unnecessarily leaving time for the Titans to execute their lateral touchdown play (see above story). If the Titans had managed the clock correctly in the Super Bowl, that is, used their last time out properly, they probably would have had time for at least one more play and maybe two.
Had the Titans scored, they would have needed to decide whether to go for one or two. Or, in other words, to go for the win or the tie. Mathematically, one should probably go for the tie because NFL teams tend to succeed less than 50% of the time at two-point conversions and the win probability of each team is, by definition, 50% in OT. But in Football Clock Management, I discussed the emotional asymmetry of going for the tie. It creates a situation where the defense is going for the win (if they block the PAT kick), but the offense is only going for a tie. I would go for two, which I believe gives the Titans an emotional advantage, especially coming on the heels of their dramatic last-minute drive. There is also the Ara Parseghian effect. His 1966 decision to go for the tie against Michigan State is still criticized.
I would rather be two yards from victory and attacking than calling a coin toss to start an overtime period. Football is not all mathematics.

Here is a little email debate I got into with a college statistics professor on the subject of whether the Titans should go for two had they scored a TD in regulation:

Professor: John, the NFL average success rate for 2-pt conversions is nowhere near 50%. It is possible that the Titans are better (but they miss their first try). I don't know what momentum you are referring to. Is it the carryover from having scored the TD. If so it didn't help them after the first score. It also didn't help Nebraska against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Also why wouldn't the momentum of scoring a last second TD carry over into overtime?

The real questionable action was going for two at the end of the 3rd quarter. Had they kicked a 1-pt conversion your discussion would be moot.

In Las Vegas and Atlantic City they love people who play hunches and make decisions based on emotion.

Reed: I have not yet focused on the decision to go for two earlier in the second half. The discussion below relates to whether the Titans should have gone for two had they scored a TD on the final play of regulation.

The two-point conversion rate of the NFL was .431 for the 1997 season, which is why the math says to go for the tie. The Titans 2-point conversion rate that year was .500, but the sample sizes for both the Titans (4 attempts) and the NFL (109) are small. The NFL success rate for scoring from the three-yard line or closer was .462 in 1997 (645 attempts), which is arguably within an emotional momentum's throw of .500, especially when you consider that the ball is on the two-yard line for the extra point, not between the two and three. (Source of stats: 1998 Pro Football Revealed by Stats, Inc.)
Yes, you have momentum from the drive leading to the TD---length of the field in less than two minutes with only one time out in the Super Bowl. The reason the momentum does not carry over into OT is the long delay between the last play of the regulation and the first play of OT and possibly a change of possession in the transition to OT. To the extent that there was momentum, the Titans' offense had it, not their kickoff team or defense, units that have a 50% probability of starting the OT period on the field.
In regulation, you have the ball. In OT, you may lose the toss. I will not say that a possession in hand is worth two in the bush, but it is true that the Titans can elevate their probability of scoring from the two-yard line by sheer will power, whereas their will power and every other football virtue mean absolutely nothing to an OT coin. To a statistician, a single play with a 50% probability of success and an OT period with a 50% probability of success with the coin as well as OT offense, defense, and special teams may seem equivalent. But to a football team, the former is preferable because a single play's worth of effort, concentration, etc. can improve their chances above the statistical average.
The Titans have an unusual QB who is akin to a legitimate NFL running back. That makes him a run-pass option threat. The run-pass option is hard to stop in general and very hard to stop within two-yards.
When he was a kid, every player on the Titans and Rams imagined himself in the Super Bowl for the final play with the game on the line. In those dreams, the player won the game for his team. If you go for one, the Rams have a chance to achieve that dream on this play by blocking the kick. If you go for two, both teams do. One should not lightly abandon the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness the psychic energy of such lifelong dreams, or cede that power to one's opponent.

I am also a football coach, or was for eleven seasons. Dice, cards, and roulette wheels do not respond to emotion. Football players do. I have been in games as both a player and a coach where our victory clearly stemmed from our emotional advantage for the whole game or just for a moment in the game. Football coaches have all sorts of inside information that gamblers are not permitted to have. Plus coaches get to make their "bets" a lot later than gamblers, like five seconds before the play in question is run.
Football coaches also have a longer term to think about. Jeff Fisher is still the Titans coach. His 2000 squad will include most players from the 1999 team. If you go for two and come up short, you generally go away with the feeling that you gave it your best effort. If you go for the tie and it gets blocked, you lose just the same as failing in a two-point conversion attempt, but you feel much worse and that feeling becomes a handicap in the 2000 season. And if you kick the PAT and go into OT, and never get within to a field position with a better win probability than the two-yard line you had in regulation, you feel a profound remorse for which probability and statistics are cold comfort.
In general, I think the math in this case comes out pretty close to 50-50. It is only in such close calls that I will decide in favor of emotion.
This is the first time I have ever been on this side of an argument like this. In all previous such arguments, I was arguing in favor of the statistically-correct course of action against more emotional football coaches. I think you'll see that when you read my book.
Jack Reed

Clock management earlier in the second half

In Super Bowl XXXIV, there are also questions as to whether the two teams managed the clock correctly earlier in the game. In general, the leading team should be in a slowdown and the trailing team should be in a hurry-up. There are some exceptions to that rule, but it would generally have applied to this Super Bowl except for about the last five minutes of each half.
When the Rams were ahead in the third and fourth quarters, they should have been in a slowdown. Surely, if they had, they would have eliminated most of the scary (to the Rams) final drive of the Titans. But if they had wasted more time, they would also have eliminated their own retake-the-lead touchdown. If they had wasted even more time, they might have eliminated the Titans' game-tying score.

Football is a game of seconds. Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one your opponent uses to beat you.

I am not especially interested in which of those three outcomes proper clock management would have produced. Slowing down when you are ahead is the right thing to do, not because it always leads to victory, only because it usually does (over 90% of the time when you are up by more than two touchdowns at half time). The fact that it sometimes does not lead to victory does not change the recommendation any more than a kicker missing a 22-yard field goal proves the coach should have gone for the first down instead. Stuff happens.

"Dr. Z" likes Rams' not running out the clock
Sports Illustrated's
Paul Zimmerman ("Dr. Z") commended the Rams offensive coordinator for his clock management, or I should say lack of clock management, on their final possession saying, "When conventional wisdom screamed that he should run down the clock, Mike Martz stuck to his guns and went for broke." Actually, that is the subhead on Zimmerman's 2/7/00 article. Often, the subheads are written by a different person than the article author and say things that the article author hates. I cannot tell if that's case here. Both the subhead and the brief article are laden with slogans and platitudes.

Some comments on Zimmerman's analysis: I do not think conventional wisdom screamed for running down the clock. My book doesn't even scream for running down the clock in the situation the Rams found themselves with 2:12 left. After a post-field goal kickoff, they had the ball 1st & 10 at their own 27 with the scored tied. The Rams threw a 73-yard bomb for the winning TD on their first play of the possession.

Since it was likely their last possession, the Rams clock-management assistant coach should have consulted my pace graph (page 83 of Football Clock Management). It says that with 2:12 left and about sixty yards to go (for a high-probability field goal), you should operate at a top-speed-hurry-up pace. So I do not know where "Dr. Z" gets the idea that the Rams should have been running out the clock. They had too far to go and too little time in which to do it.

The phrases "stuck to his guns" and "went for broke" are unbecoming a serious analysis. Reduced to more neutral language, what Z or his headline writer is saying is that Martz is a pass-oriented guy, even to the point of passing when most coaches would be running. Neither pass- or run-orientation is correct. You have to look at the situation, including personnel. Also, long passes have a high failure rate and a relatively high interception rate. One must not let 20/20 hindsight that what Martz did worked cloud analysis of the validity of his decision at the time he made it. I would like to believe that the spotters in the booth saw a specific reason to think that a long pass would have an increased and acceptably high probability of working because of the way the defense was lined up or some such. I do not like the picture of NFL coaches making end-of-Super-Bowl decisions on the basis of emotional cliches like "sticking to one's guns" or "going for broke." If the spotters did not see a specific opportunity, I think most knowledgeable analysts would characterize Martz's play call as overly risky. With 2:12 left, he can run as many as 22 clock-stopping plays. If he did that, he would only need to average about 60 yards ÷ 22 = 2.73 yards per play. When you are in a situation where you can win by averaging just three yards a play, why risk throwing a 73-yard bomb?

To put it another way, I believe that if you analyzed dozens of games where a similar play call was made, you would find that it failed or backfired more than it succeeded.

When I was a freshman offensive coordinator of a high school team, we got a huge gain from a pass-interference call against our arch rival in a close game. Normally, I ran on first down and we were running well in the game. But I had read somewhere that after giving up a big penalty, the opponent sometimes suffers a psychological letdown, so it's a good time to "go for broke." I called "32 pop pass"---a dive fake and fade pass. It was intercepted. We lost the game 8-6. Essentially, I made a similar decision to what Martz did. When it works, you're a genius. When it doesn't, it's, "Why did you risk the interception?" I should have stuck with what was working and not "gone for broke." Martz's first-down call with 2:12 in Super Bowl XXXIV could easily have gone the same way for the Rams---that is, an interception.

In the event, the pass was underthrown because of pressure. The Rams are extremely fortunate that the defensive back did not know the ball was underthrown because he was in a better position to catch it than the Rams' receiver.

Also, Titans probably failed to conserve time before they tied the game

It would also be interesting to see if the Titans were conserving time when they were behind in the third and fourth quarters. After all, they ran out of time, not downs, at the end of the game. (The final play was a first-and-eleven play and possibly gained another first down at the one. Because the game ended on the play, there was no spot or measurement.) How the Titans used their final time out was a factor, but probably more important was how soon after the ready-to-play whistle they snapped the ball on every offensive play in the second half. If they ever dawdled, just once, that, too, may have cost them the game. They should have been complying with all the hurry-up rules when they were behind, including calling any time outs right after the previous play, throwing the ball away rather than take a sack, and so forth. In a game that ends on first or second down on the one-yard line, even a single lapse in proper clock management can cost you the game.

I have not yet done that whole-second-half analysis. It will take some time. Plus I have not been able to find the usual play-by-play at the NFL Web site. But I will very surprised if the Titans conserved as much time as they should have in the second half before they tied the game. If they ever dawdled when calling for a snap or a time out or took an unnecessary sack earlier in the second half, the photo of Dyson futilely stretching for the goal line with :02 remaining takes on a whole new meaning.

Football is a game of seconds. Every second you waste may be the one you need to win the game.

John Wooden's high school championship game

This anecdote involved a basketball game, but it well illustrates the principle of more versus enough. I was reading Wooden's autobiography They Call Me Coach to learn how to be a better coach in general. (I never coached basketball.) With seconds to go in the state championship basketball game, in Indiana, Wooden's team was up 12-11 (basketball?). The opponent committed a technical foul ("called" a fourth time out by a player getting hurt).

Wooden, who was team captain, wisely declined to take the foul shot. His team had been in possession at the time of the technical foul, so they would just get the ball back and run out the remaining seconds. But Wooden's coach went nuts yelling, "We'll shoot it! We'll shoot it!" Wooden argued, but lost. He shot and missed. By the rules in force then, that made it a jump ball at center court. The center grabbed the ball for himself, also allowed at the time, and fired an underhand shot the length of the court. It was good, giving them the lead by one. Wooden called time out. Wooden's team managed to get a shot which circled the rim. He had a teammate under the basket, but he was jumping up and down in jubilation and made no effort to tip it in. When it came out instead of going in, the player batted it up but missed the basket. Wooden's team lost the state championship.

This story illustrates the stupidity of going for more points when you already have enough, whether the sport is football or basketball. It also shows the clock-management danger of premature celebration. Actually, I thought premature celebration was a recent phenomenon. Wooden 's high school championship game was in 1928!

Need six to eight receivers to run whole-game no-huddle

In the 1/8/01 Sports Illustrated, Florida State’s offensive coordinator Mark Richt said they did not run as much no-huddle in the Oklahoma game as they wanted because “you’ve got to have six receivers and you’re better off with eight.” Two FSU receivers were out of the game—one for academic problems, the other with a sore hamstring. In the whole-game hurry-up chapter of Football Clock Management, I said you needed to become expert in fatigue management to run it. This is an example of the kind of knowledge you need to run prolonged no-huddle offenses.

No referee "housekeeping" time after first down or penalties

In Football Clock Management, I said that the game-clock time consumed from one play to the next falls into three categories:

  • the play itself
  • referee "housekeeping" time (placing the ball and getting into position to give the ready-to-play signal)
  • play-clock time

There is no referee "housekeeping" time in the NFL when the 40-second play clock is in use. Upon further review, I want to note that no referee "housekeeping" time comes off the game clock on a play which gains a first down or which has a penalty flag. On those plays, the officials stop the game clock when the play ends. They will restart the game clock after the chains have been moved or the penalty has been enforced or declined.

On page 77 of Football Clock Management, I said that Arizona State University Rose Bowl quarterback Jake Plummer appears to have called for the snap about 15 seconds too soon on the first-down play after his completed pass to the Ohio State eight-yard line for a first down. I was wrong. He waited until 22 seconds had run off the play clock. That also ran 22 seconds off the game clock, because after a first-down play, the game clock and play clock start simultaneously. I thought Plummer must have called for the ball when only ten seconds had run off the play clock because I figured about 15 seconds must have run off during referee "housekeeping" time. But I forget that there is no "housekeeping" time during which the game clock runs after a first down or penalty play. Plummer did about as well as he could do. My criticism of ASU coach Bruce Snyder for calling a too-quick timeout after the second-down sack play on that series still stands.

Apologies to Bill Montgomery

On page 5, I state my assumption (based on the era) that Arkansas quarterback Bill Montgomery called a play that failed in the 1969 Arkansas-Texas game. Reader Mark Malcolm of Richardson TX wrote to point out a quote from Arkansas coach Frank Broyles in J. Neal Blanton's book Game of the Century: "We would not have called a pass if we had an average quarterback." We can therefore conclude that Broyles and/or his offensive coordinator Don Breaux, not Montgomery, called the fatal pass.

New Year's not a good day for spiking the ball

The 1998 Rose Bowl game ended with Washington State's Ryan Leaf spiking the ball to stop the clock as time ran out. The snap was at :02 left in the game. That's not enough time for a spike play. But it is enough time for a regular play. They should have run a Hail Mary or other final attempt at scoring instead.

The first half of the 1998 Orange Bowl ended similarly with Tennessee's Peyton Manning trcying to run a spike-the-ball play. He couldn't even get the officials to get out of the way so he could call for the snap.

If you plan to spike the ball, it is better to do it one play too soon than one play too late. Both Washington State and Tennessee should have spiked the ball one play earlier, if the situation permitted, or they should have just run their last regular play instead of trying to stop the clock.

Error in 1995 Army-Navy score

In his kind review of my book, Col. Morris J. Herbert of West Point's alumni magazine Assembly pointed out that I fouled up the score of the 1995 Army-Navy game. I said Army trailed 13-6 and went for a two-point conversion to win. Actually, they trailed 13-7 and only needed a one-point conversion to win. Why did I screw up? No excuse, Sir!

"Response" from Bruce Snyder?

This is not an error per se. But on page 80 of Football Clock Management, I said I sent Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder a copy of an early version of my Slowdown chapter. That chapter says Snyder probably lost the 1997 Rose Bowl because he called a timeout too fast when he should have been in a slowdown mode and therefore waited until the play clock had run out. I asked Snyder for his comments. He did not reply. But I was interested to note a quote from him on page 126 of the August 25, 1997 Sports Illustrated. The article is about ASU's loss of the Rose Bowl. It said,

It took Snyder three weeks to bring himself to watch the game tapes. "I got a letter from Dick Vermiel," he says. "He had done the game on TV. He said that when he was coaching, he learned more from losses than he did from wins. So I pulled out the tapes, and I watched them---a lot. I've analyzed the timeouts, all the decisions I made, and I went over them with my staff."

Does that mean Snyder agrees with my analysis of the game, or at least the part about calling the timeout too fast? Can't say for sure. I wish he would talk to me. But at least we agree the timeouts were a factor.

Fake take a knee at the end of a game

On page 97, I quoted Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman ("Dr. Z") as saying,

"it makes absolutely no sense at all" to do a fake take-a-knee play at the end of a game.

I further said, "I agree." But on 9/14/97, I was scouting an upcoming youth football opponent. The score was 0-0 and as the regulation time wound down, the team on offense was at midfield going into a stiff wind. It occurred to me that they should just take a knee rather than risk an interception. They had little success passing during the game.

Then it occurred to me that maybe the best thing would be for them to take a knee once or twice, followed by a fake take-a-knee in which they tried to score. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. So I no longer agree with Paul Zimmerman, and maybe he would change his mind as well if asked about a tie-ball-game scenario. I now say, the fake take-a-knee play is legitimate at the end of the first half OR at the end of the game when the score is tied and the game is about to go into overtime. I continue to agree that doing a fake take-a-knee when you are ahead at the end of a game serves no legitimate purpose.

Supplemental material including comments on clock management in recent football games and errata for the book Football Clock Management

These items are in chronological order with the most recent at the top of the page. This page got so big that it began to download too slowly so I broke it into a separate page for various years or year groups.

The following clock-related rules have been changed in recent years:

HS: offensive pass interference no longer results in loss of down and defensive pass interference no longer results in an automatic first down.

NCAA: If game clock is stopped with 1 minute or more of end of half because of a helmetless player play clock will be set at :25 if the helmetless player is on offense and at :40 if he is on defense. If within 1 minute of end of half, opponent of helmetless player has the option of a 10-second game clock runoff. If the helmetless player team has a timeout, they may use it to avoid the runoff. Play clock will be set at :25 and the game clock will start on the referee’s signal.

If a player’s helmet comes off during play other tan because of an opponent foul, the player who lost the helmet must leave the game for one play. The game clock will stop a the end of that down. If the helmetless player’s team has a timeout, they can use it to keep him in the game.

If less than 1 minute left in the half and a team causes the game clock to stop by committing a foul listed below, the opposing team will have the option of a 10-second game clock runoff:

a. foul that prevent snap
b. intentional grounding to stop the clock
c. incomplete illegal forward pass
d. backward pass thrown out of bounds to stop the clock
e. any other foul committed with the intent to stop the clock.

Offended team may accept the yardage penalty but decline the 10-second runoff.

There is no 10-second runoff option if the foul was not the cause of the game clock stopping

If the offended team chooses the 10-second runoff option, the game clock starts on the referee’s signal; if not, it starts on the snap.

If the team that committed the foul has a timeout, they may use it to avoid the 10-second runoff. In that case, the game clock will start on the snap after the timeout.

A forward pass will no longer be considered intentional grounding if the receiver in the vicinity does not have a reasonable opportunity to catch the ball. A receiver merely being in the area where the ball is thrown is now sufficient to avoid the intentional-grounding call.

If a player injury on one of the two teams is the only reason for stopping the clock, with less than 1 minute left in the half, the opponent has the option of a 10-second runoff. The play clock will be set at :40 seconds if the injured player is on defense and :25 seconds if he is on offense. If players on each team are hurt on the play, this penalty will not apply.

If the game clock is stopped with three or more seconds left in a half and will start on the referee’s signal, the offense may spike the ball then run another play if they have the downs. But if there are only two seconds left in this situation, they can only run one play, i.e., don’t spike the ball.

A dead ball foul triggers a referee’s timeout

Penalty options must be exercised before a team timeout, in other words, you cannot use a team timeout to consider whether you want to accept a penalty or not.

Rule 12-3-5-c used to apply to end-of-half clock adjustments. Now it applies to the end of any quarter. Here is the whole rule:

c. Clock adjustment at the end of either quarter.

If at the end of a quarter the game clock expires, either during a down in which it should be stopped by rule when the ball becomes dead or following the down upon a request for an available team timeout, the replay official may restore time only under these conditions:

1. The replay official has indisputable video evidence that time should have remained on the game clock when the ball became dead or when the team timeout was granted;

2. The team in possession when the ball became dead would next put the ball in play from scrimmage;

3. In the fourth quarter only, either the score is tied or the team that will next snap the ball is behind by eight points or fewer; and4. The replay official’s video evidence includes the timeout signal by an official in the case where the game clock should have stopped for a requested team timeout.

NFL: kicking a loose ball results in loss of down and all turnovers will henceforth be automatically reviewed via instant replay

2013 Superbowl

I worried that the Niners were going to lose the SuperBowl on bad clock management in spite of Jim Harbaugh succeeding multiple coaches at each of this three head coach jobs who were big fans of my book Football Clock Management ( And that may have indeed been what happened.

First, all the celebrating by Baltimore is really about the defensive-holding non-call that the line judge refused to make on a Niners pass to the end zone.

Had it been called, the Niners would have gotten an automatic first down and goal at the 3 with over a minute left. With that situation, they almost certainly would have scored the game-winning TD. So the Ravens victory gets an asterisk.

Now to the clock. To be precise, I need to analyze the play-by-play. I have not done that yet. But basically, the Niners should have been in a max hurry-up in the first half and in the second half except for the final drive which was a pace-graph situation and generally should have been a slow-down.

Were the Niners in a hurry-up? Hell, no! They were in a slow down the whole game—including huddling!!!!! WTF?

The Ravens weren't much better. They should have been in a slow-down the whole game, and were not really waiting long enough for the snap until the very end of the game.

Kaepernick got another delay penalty in the final drive!!!! except he was saved from it by Jim Harbaugh calling a timeout. You do not call a timeout in that situation—unless your QB is a clock moron.

Had the Niners been in a hurry-up in whole the second half, as they should have been, the game would have lasted much beyond their final drive, perhaps long enough to get a stop and a second chance to score the game-winning TD.

I do not recall a worse game—clock-management-wise—Superbowl or other type of NFL game—since my book came out in 1997 and that and my column in American Football Quarterly magazine started changing the way the game is played clockwise. These two coaches managed to get into the Superbowl—suggesting they are the two best coaches in the NFL—and neither of them has a freaking clue about how to manage the clock. John was a little better than Jim, but they were both playing as if they had just arrived in a time machine from 1996. If you are a fan of either, buy them a copy of my book and send it to them. I already sent many copies to the teams they coached for when their predecessors purchased them from me. Apparently neither Harbaugh feels he is paid enough to bother learning how to manage the clock. Unbelievable!

A reader asked what I thought of the intentional safety by the Ravens on the next-to-last play of the game.

A. Chapter 4 of my book is titled “Intentional safety.” It tells precisely when to do it and how.

B. The Ravens did it when they should have and executed it exactly as my book said to execute it.. The Niners should have expected it and made it end sooner. It took eight second off the clock. That’s too much. What the heck were they doing? Setting up a punt return?

C. If the Ravens had been in a slow-down for the entire second half, as they should have been, the game would have ended much sooner and the whole final two possessions would have been eliminated—probably even more. In other words, it was the correct thing to do given the situation when the Ravens did it, but they should not have been in that situation to begin with. They should have run out the clock sooner by waiting until the end of the play clock on every play in the second half when the game clock was running between plays.

In a close game there are always many plays that if they had gone differently would have changed who won. My position is that clock management is the easiest to fix. I’m not saying they lost due to clock management because there were no other decisive events in the game like turnovers and so on. What I AM saying is that had the Niners complied with my clock-management rules, and everything else that happened remained the same, they probably would have won. They certainly would have had been able to run more plays. The main rule they violated was

1.10(b) When your win probability is less than .500, use a maximum hurry-up tempo.

And the main violation of the max hurry-up rule they committed was Rule

4.00(b)(1) call for the snap as soon as possible after the ready-to-play signal

The Niners win probability was below .500 on every Niner snap of the game other than their first and last possessions. On their last possession, they started out with a win probability below .500, but as they advanced down the field, it changed to above .500. At that point, because the end of the game was near, they needed to use my pace graph (Chapter 7 is titled “Pace Graph.”). The purpose of the pace graph, which is one of the most sophisticated clock techniques in the book, is to have you proceed down the field to score, but on a schedule that leaves little or no time for the opponent to come back after you score. It applies to the end of each half.

Then there is SF’s final play: a return of a free kick punt after a safety.

A. They should have run something other than a regular punt, like a reverse fake reverse or backward pass.

B. They could have fair caught the ball then run one from-scrimmage play.

C. On any play that involved running for a TD on a rushing play or after a catch, the ball carrier must not let himself be tackled or knocked out of bounds. If he cannot avoid either, he must lateral to a teammate or to the ground. Since my book came out advocating this in 1997, this has sort of become standard practice in the NFL. It actually should be standard on all HS and NFL two-point conversion attempts (not NCAA) and on all “final play of the game where you need a TD” plays other than passes to the end zone. This is covered by Chapter 8 of my book “Final play of the game when you need a touchdown” and my Rule 4.00(r). Such laterals have a low success probability, but that till beats the heck out of allowing yourself to be tackled or knocked out of bounds, each of which is absolutely guaranteed to cost you the game. The Niners kick returner let himself be tackled and made no attempt to lateral the ball to my astonishment.

Jets-Cardinals 12/2/12

Here is an email I got from a reader on 12/3/12:

In yesterday's game, Shonn Greene (who is from Winslow, NJ) exhibited excellent clock management.

At the two minute warning, the Jets had 2nd and 3 at the Arizona 6. The Jets were leading 7-6 and Arizona was out of time-outs.

Greene got the first down, and then took a knee at the one, despite having a clear shot at a touchdown. This enabled the Jets to run out the clock.

Your teachings are starting to take hold.

Jackie DeLister
Correct. Teams have been doing that since I first said to do it in my book in 1997. Maurice Jones-Drew did it several years ago in an NFL game. It also was attempted but screwed up in a recent Super Bowl and successfully executed in another. Having said that, if you read my Football Clock Management book , you will still be amazed at how many of the things in it teams have NOT begun to do. For example, the Niners on Sunday called a bunch of non-compliant timeouts.

Penn State-Illinois 10/29/11

I just watched the end of this game. I never saw his face or his name on the screen, but it sounded like Rod Gilmore was one of the commentators. Whoever it was, he did a great job of analyzing the clock management.

Penn State called a hurry-up timeout (right after the end of the previous play) near the end of the game when they were in a slow down. Gilmore said it was a big mistake. That is correct. They should have called a slowdown timeout (just before the end of the play clock) instead. As it turned out, the clock expired on a 42-yard field goal attempt that hit the upright. Had the kick been good. the game would have been tied in regulation. Had Penn State called the slowdown timeout, the game would have ended about 38 seconds sooner. At :38 left, Illinois was not in filed goal range. The game would probably have ended with an incomplete Hail Mary pass.

Also, on the final play before the kick attempt, Illinois ran up the middle to get a shorter kick. The play gained about nine yards but it took nine seconds! By the time that run ended, there were only five seconds left on the clock.

Gilmore commented that if the Penn State defense had been more “savvy,” they would have held the guy up and kept moving toward the goal until the whole 14 seconds ran off. If they had done that. they would have won without having to worry about the accuracy of the kick. Gilmore was correct. He was paraphrasing my Clock Management Rule 1.20(a)2) which says to keep the opponent inbounds and upright when you are on defense and trying to waste clock.

The win was Joe Paterno’s 409th which put him ahead of Eddie Robinson to take the major college coach lead in that category. With regard to clock management, Paterno still needs a lot of work.

Gilmore and I exchanged emails or phone calls a few years back. He was extremely enthusiastic about my Football Clock Management book. I never heard him mention me on the air, but he is one of the best, if not the best, clock guys among TV announcers and I am assuming that is because he read and bought into my book.

My two-minute warning rule was the opposite of what it should have been

In a recent game against the Niners, the Eagles, who were trailing by one point, called a timeout with 2:02 left in the game.

What my rule has said since 1997

That violated my clock management rule 4.00(b)(2) exception (in my book Football Clock Management) which says,

In the NFL avoid calling timeout between 2:39 left in the half and the two-minute warning

Why? If you call timeouts when you are on defense and your opponent is running a slowdown, you save 40 seconds. But if you call them between 2:39 and 2:00, they will save fewer than 40 seconds. Makes sense, right?

I was wrong about that.

I was about to email the Eagles to ask if they know something I did not about that rule. Then my son Dan said,“Hold off on that. I want to run some numbers.”

He then sent me the following email:

What I'm coming across is completely counter-intuitive, so please check my numbers. But if they're right, this COMPLETELY changes the approach to TOs around the 2 min warning.

Assuming the offense is ahead and will run 40 seconds off each time if they can, and assuming each play they run is 6 seconds long, they stay in bounds, and they convert the first down before having to punt:

SITUATION A: Defense has 1 TO

Scenario 1 (T.O. AFTER 2min warning)

2:40 Play 1 snap
2:34 Play 1 ends
2:00 minute warning
2:00 Play 2 snap
1:54 Play 2 ends (Def calls TO)
1:54 Play 3 snap
1:48 Play 3 ends
1:08 Play 4 snap

Scenario 2 (T.O. BEFORE 2 min warning)

2:40 Play 1 snap
2:34 Play 1 ends (Def calls TO)
2:34 Play 2 snap
2:28 Play 2 ends
2:00 minute warning
2:00 Play 3 snap
1:54 Play 3 ends
1:14 Play 4 snap

Calling the timeout BEFORE saves the defense 6 seconds.

SITUATION B (Defense has 3 TOs)

Scenario 1 (TOs AFTER 2 min warning)

2:40 Play 1 snap
2:34 Play 1 ends
2:00 minute warning
2:00 Play 2 snap
1:54 Play 2 ends (TO 1)
1:54 Play 3 snap
1:48 Play 3 ends (TO 2)
1:48 Play 4 snap
1:42 Play 4 ends (TO 3)
1:42 Play 5 snap
1:36 Play 5 ends
0:56 Play 6 snap

Scenario 2 (TOs BEFORE 2 min warning)

2:40 Play 1 snap
2:34 Play 1 ends (TO 1)
2:34 Play 2 snap
2:28 Play 2 ends (TO 2)
2:28 Play 3 snap
2:22 Play 3 ends (TO 3)
2:22 Play 4 snap
2:16 Play 4 ends
2:00 minute warning
2:00 Play 5 snap
1:54 Play 5 ends
1:14 Play 6 snap

Calling all 3 timeouts BEFORE the 2-min warning saves the defense 18 seconds.

In both situations, calling the timeout between 2:00 and 2:40 saves (6 seconds..the length of the play) x (number of TOs).

Check my numbers... I checked them 5 times and they seem right to me, so either I'm missing something now, or we've been missing this for a decade.


I agreed with him. Then we went back and forth trying to articulate why this is.

Here’s the deal.

It’s a FOUR-play sequence

When you burn your timeouts, as you should, when you are on defense, trailing, and your opponent is running a slowdown, you almost always create a sequence of three plays in a row—fewer than three if you have fewer than three timeouts at the time. The average competitive play—that is where the offense is trying to advance the ball, not take a knee—takes about six seconds.

So that play 1-timeout-play 2-timeout-play 3-timeout sequence burns 6 x 3 = 18 seconds off the game clock. That is what happens no matter when you call the timeouts, except…

The key point is how many seconds the offense gets to burn after the fourth play of the sequence—when you are out of timeouts.

The answer is 40 seconds, UNLESS you call those timeouts between 2:39 and about 2:07. In that time period, the offense cannot take the usual 40 seconds off the game clock because the NFL referee will stop the clock at 2:00 or as soon thereafter as the play ends if there is a play underway at 2:00.

NFL only, not HS or NCAA

Note, none of this discussion applies to high school or NCAA. There is no two-minute warning official’s timeout in high school or NCAA. Only in the NFL is the two-minute warning an official’s timeout.

Does it matter whether you call your three timeouts closer to 2:39 or 2:00?

Yes. you have to call the last one early enough—around 2:07 or 2:08 to force the offense to run another play that ends before the two-minute warning. That will prevent them from running off :40 on the fourth play of the sequence. Or perhaps I should call it the play after you call your last time out before the 2:00 warning.

In summary, the optimal time to take your timeouts is when you are trailing, on defense, and your opponent is running a maximum slowdown, and in the NFL only, taking all three timeouts between 2:39 and 2:07 is best because it saves the duration of each preceding play more than taking those timeouts before 2:39 or after 2:07.

Taking one timeout in that 2:39-2:07 period saves approximately an additional 6 seconds.

Taking two timeouts in that 2:39-2:07 period saves approximately an additional 12 seconds.

Taking three timeouts in that 2:39-2:07 period saves approximately an additional 18 seconds.

How should my rule 4.00(b)(2) exception be changed?

Just change the word “avoid” to “prefer.” In other words, my rule was the opposite of what it should have been. and change the window from 2:39-2:00 to 2:39-2:07.

Thanks, Dan, for figuring it out.

Celebrating baseball player breaks his ankle

Football Clock Management has a chapter about stupid celebrations and personal fouls. They are clock management issues because they usually occur at the end of a game. Angels first baseman Kendry Morales literally ended a game—and maybe his season—by hitting a walk-off 10th inning grand slam that defeated Seattle 5-1. Instead of simply stepping on home plate as required by the rules, he theatrically jumped on it among a crowd of teammates. He broke his ankle and was expected to need three months to get healed.

The old rule—act like you have been there before—needs to be brought back.

The following day, another Angel hit another walk off home run. He stepped on home plate without injury.

Patriots-Colts, 2009

New England had fourth-and-2, up six, 2:03 to play, at their own 28-yard line. They went for it, came within inches or perhaps a spot, but fell short. Indianapolis then won the game with a touchdown at :13.

Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine called me to ask what my clock management rule was about a subsequent play when the Colts had first and goal at the one-yard line with :36 left. He said an unnamed NFL coach he discussed it with thought New England should have deliberately let the Colts score a TD so the Pats could have the maximum time to come back and kick the game-winning field goal. I was surprised that my book did not cover the situation already.

The current edition is the third edition. My second edition says to deliberately let the opponent score a touchdown when you are tied or up by one and they are going to kick a field goal no matter what. Mike Holmgren did that in Super Bowl XXXII.

I told Wickersham the issue involves working assumptions as opposed to probability assumptions. In New England’s situation after they turned the ball over on downs, they had a negative win probability. A working probability is like kicking onside when you are behind near the end of a game. You do not do it because you think it will probably work. You do it because it’s essentially your only way to victory in that situation.

The Patriots could win by a successful goal line stand—but with first and goal at the one and :36 left, Indianapolis gets four shots to go one yard. Peyton Manning is their quarterback. I do not like those chances.

The alternative is to let the Colts score a TD at :36, then try to use the kick return and/or about four scrimmage plays. That is more likely to result in a New England victory.

So, yes, the former 49ers coach (head or assistant) whose name was not disclosed to me is correct. The Patriots should have let the Colts score a TD from the one so they could have :34 or so to try to come back and kick the game-winning field goal.

So sometimes you let the opponent score a touchdown when you will be down by one after the TD.

Pitt-Cincinnati, 12/5/09

During this game, Pitt ran a kickoff out of the end zone with about a minute left and down by one. The returner was tackled short of the 20-yard line. The return consumed 11 seconds. Announcer Matt Millen pointed out that they could have gotten all the way to the 20 without spending any seconds to do it by taking the touchback. Good point.

They were in a hurry-up situation. 11 seconds is enough time to start two plays. So the issue is which is likely to increase your win probability the most: a kick return out of the end zone or two additional scrimmage plays with a starting point of your own 20-yard line? The answer is a function of the relative ability of your offense against the opposing defense and your kick-return team against the opposing kickoff team.

Since most teams neglect special teams, the touchback is probably the better choice for them.

Stanford-Notre Dame, 11/28/09

Stanford was tied with the Irish and had 1st and goal at the Notre Dame 4 with 1:03 left. Notre Dame had one timeout left. Stanford scored a touchdown on the next play. Anything wrong with that?

That was extremely stupid. It almost cost them the game. They should have taken a knee three times and stopped the clock at :03 then kicked the game-winning 21-yard field goal. By scoring a touchdown on first down, they had to kickoff to Notre Dame with :59 left. Notre Dame got to the Stanford 24-yard line. From that spot, a 41-yard field goal would have tied the game and sent it into overtime. Notre Dame tried to pass instead. The game ended with a sack and interception.

My Football Clock Management book includes a table that says when you have first down and your opponent has one timeout, you can start taking a knee if the time remaining is 2:08 or less. So it was not even close. Furthermore, my book has my Clock Management Rules including Rule 2.02 which says to take a knee in this situation until the clock gets down to :03 then kick the field goal.

I attended a Stanford practice several years ago. As a token of my appreciation, I brought a copy of my Football Clock Management book for the head coach. He told me he already had a copy. His best friend, Harvard coach Tim Murphy, told him to get it. So why did Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh screw this up? The Stanford coach I gave the book to was Buddy Teevans, who is now at Dartmouth. He was fired to make room for Harbaugh.

Tyrone Willingham, who was very successful as head coach at Stanford before he was less successful at Notre Dame and Washington, came to my house to hear my rehearsal of my 1998 Football Clock Management clinic talk at American Football Quarterly University. I gave him a copy of the book to tank him for coming to my rehearsal.

Harbaugh came from USD. I gave the head coach of USD a copy of Football Clock Management too. He’s quoted in it. But that was Kevin McGarry, the guy they fired to hire Harbaugh.

So Stanford, I’ve tried to help you—repeatedly. At this point, you guys can buy a copy of the damned book.

I was also your #2-in-the-Pac-10 WR Ryan Whalen’s first football coach. (Mainly, I chewed him out for dropping passes. He does not do that anymore so I guess it worked.)

Maurice Jones-Drew kneel down at 1-yard line

With his team down by 1 point against the Jets, Jaguar Maurice Jones-Drew got to the Jets one-yard line with 1:40 left in the game—AND TOOK A KNEE!

What’s up with that? Almost the same as the situation above at Stanford-Notre Dame. Jacksonville then took a knee three times, running the clock down to :03, at which time they kicked the game-winning field goal.

Did I have a connection with that? They probably got it from my book. I never saw or heard of any such thing when I wrote the book, but it made logical sense to me so I put it in there. The Broncos 9/13/09 game (see below) when the receiver ran sideways along the goal line to run off some more clock before scoring probably made the NFL safe for such things. (The Bronco guy did not take a knee because they needed more than three points.)

Jones-Drew graduated from De La Salle High School which is 12 miles from my house, but I am not aware that school has ever used my clock book or rules.

Another possible connection is with Amador Valley Exercise Equipment in Dublin, CA. I was talking with the owner there a couple of years ago and mentioned my book. The owner was very interested. He said he was a personal friend and former personal trainer of Jack Del Rio. When he trained Del Rio, Del Rio lived in Castro Valley, CA, the town west of Dublin. The trainer said he was going to tell Del Rio about my Football Clock Management book. That was around 2006. Del Rio has been the head coach of the Jaguars since 2003 and was for the game when Jones-Drew took the knee at the one. I do not know if Del Rio ever got my book. But I suspect that someone on the Jaguar staff must have because players do not think shit like that up on their own in the middle of a game they are losing.

Many fantasy football owners of Jones-Drew were pissed that he did not score a TD on that play. Go back to cleaning your pocket protectors, guys. The object of the game is to win, not to pad your individual stats.

Kudos to Del Rio for coaching Maurice Jones-Drew to execute that play in that situation. Kudos to Jones-Drew for having the discipline and team orientation to do so. And kudos to my local 49ers for kicking the butts of Del Rio and Jones-Drew today, 11/29/09, 20-3.

Now if I could only get 49ers coach Mike Singletary to adhere to my clock management rules.

LSU-Ole Mss 11/21/09

Here is an email I got from a reader:

I’m sure you’ve seen and heard about it already, but the last minute of the LSU – Ole Miss game on 11/21 could comprise a new chapter in your book.
Ball @ Ole Miss 32 yard line with just under a minute to go and 2 time outs. LSU’s kicker has already made a 50 yard FG, so he is within range. First down, LSU QB bails out and throws it away, because Ole Miss is bringing heavy blitz pressure. In fact, the play that got LSU to the 32 was a WR screen that caught them in a blitz. Should have been a warning sign, but apparently not. Second down, LSU QB sacked for an 8 yard loss. Time out called. Third down, LSU swing pass behind LOS thrown for another loss. 29 seconds on the clock, 4th and 26, LSU coaches let the clock run down to 9 seconds before calling final time out.
LSU attempts a Hail Mary that falls short of the end zone, but is complete for a first down with 1 second at the 12. Despite their best efforts to avoid winning the game, LSU still has a chance if they run the FG team out or run a play as soon as the ball is spotted. Replay shows that 27 seconds of real time elapsed between the completion and the time the chains were set. The refs actually had trouble GETTING them set, which gave LSU more time. However, it is clearly evident that LSU was not prepared for either option. Instead, they make a futile effort to spike the ball and the clock runs out. After the game, Les Miles sounds like a boxer that just got knocked out trying to explain what happened.

[Reed note: That’s a pace-graph situation. LSU should have have done a series of running plays designed to get closer to the goal post, stopped the clock at :03 with a timeout, spike, or what I call a spike out of bounds which is a spike that takes a few more seconds off the clock. Then they should have kicked the game-winning FG as time expired. The 32-yard line is a 49-yard kick. That’s borderline probability-wise even if he made one previously in the game from 50. They needed to get closer. The passing violates my rules in this situation. Too dangerous, stops the clock, could result in a turnover. I agree it’s bad clock management. Given how much big-time coaches make these days, it continues to amaze me that many of them cannot be bothered to buy, read, and comply with the clock-management rules in my $39.95 book.]

The writer adds;

Final score was 25 – 23. LSU had just scored with 1:17 to go and failed on a 2 pt conversion (incomplete pass, but Ole Miss was penalized.) LSU ran the same play from the 1 yd line, a fade pass, which was again incomplete. However, they recovered the onside kick when Ole Miss’s best player let the ball go right past him.
Miles actually makes $4 million a year. I think he’s a good coach, but it’s inexcusable for a team of that caliber to be so inept in that situation.

Jericho Mount Mansfield-Otter Valley, 9/26/09

With 1.3 seconds remaining, Jericho, trailing 16-14, attempted a game-winning field goal. It came down in the end zone, according to the TV news announcer on the YouTube video, where an Otter Valley player caught it and ran it out to the 11-yard line. After the buzzer signaling the end of regulation time sounded, he spiked the ball in celebration.

Jericho junior Jeff Sutherland scooped up the ball and ran it into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Like everything else these days, it’s on you tube at

In fact, if the ball crossed the plane of the end zone, and did not go through the uprights, it was a touchback. Had regulation time not ended during the play, Otter Valley would have been awarded the ball at their twenty-yard line. You can run the ball out of the end zone in that situation in college and pro football, but not in high school (NFHS Rule 8-5-3-a-2).

The way the play was officiated was appropriate if the ball had come down short of the end zone. When I watch the video, it appears that the ball did not cross the plane of the end zone. In other words, the TV newsman described where the ball came down inaccurately.

My Football Clock Management book has a chapter called “Celebrations and personal fouls” which is about players, and others like the Sooner Schooner, losing games by celebrating prematurely. By the way, you can also lose games because of premature mourning of a loss when it’s not over yet. My book has rules to prevent that and lots of actual case histories to make the point. The Jericho play will be added to the next edition of Football Clock Management.

The basic rule is the game does not end until the fat man in the striped shirt blows his whistle. The scoreboard horn or buzzer does not end the game during a play started before the horn.

The final clock management rule in my book says simply:

Rule 7.00 Always play until the whistle.

In 2004, one of my freshman players did a little dance after scoring a touchdown in a summer camp drill. The head varsity coach and I instantly told him we don’t do that at Monte Vista. I also named him Mr. Sportsmanship for our team. His duty as Mr. Sportsmanship was to tell the rest of the team a “bedtime story” about premature celebrations, premature mourning the loss of the game, or end-of-game personal fouls, at the end of practice. We would sit the team down about four minutes before the end of practice and Mr. Sportsmanship would tell them about an actual team—NFL, NCAA, high school—that lost a game because some yo yo on that team failed to play until the whistle. He got the actual case histories from the celebration chapter of my book which I gave him. It was fun for the team and I’ll bet that team of mine would not have made the mistake the Otter Valley player made.

Again, Otter Valley won the game if the ball crossed the plane of the end zone. The officials were wrong to call the play a Jericho touchdown in that case. It was a touchback. If the ball did not come down in the end zone, the call was correct and Jericho wins. But the impulse to celebrate before the whistle is wrong, the impulse to pick the ball up and run it into the end zone is usually correct and harmless in any event, and the celebration would have had the effect in question had the kick not gone into the end zone.

New York Giants vs Dallas Cowboys, 9/20/09

The Giants won this game with a field goal as time expired. Did Dallas lose because they screwed up the clock management?

That would be the case if they failed to operate at a slowdown tempo when they were ahead in the second half [my clock management rule 1.10(a)] or if they failed to operate at a tempo determined by my pace graph on their final scoring drive my clock management rule 1.10(b)].

Pace graph on last possession

The Cowboys’ last possession began at 7:30 left in the game at their own 29. They were down 30-24 so they needed a touchdown. There is a different pace graph for TDs and FGs. My NFL TD pace graph is on page 164 of my third edition. It says from that field position with that much time remaining, the Cowboys should snap the ball with :08 left on the play clock when the game clock is running. The pace graph is merely a schedule that delivers the team in question to the the opponent five-yard line with 1:00 left so they can take up to four shots at the end zone from that high-probability-of-success field position.

Did Dallas stay on the pace-graph schedule? Their 2nd & 8 snap at their own 42 came about 40 seconds after the ready-to play signal. (See the play-by-play at It should have been :32, but the problem is snapping too early, not too late. Their next game-clock-running snap came after getting to the Giants’ 45 with about 6:00 left. Checking the pace graph again, that time-field-position combination calls for snapping when there are no seconds left on the play clock—a max slowdown. Why the change? They got ahead of schedule by gaining 26 yards in about 1:30.

Their next snap was at 5:24. Was that correct? No. It should have been several seconds later.

Their second-down snap was correctly at 0:00 in the play clock. As was the subsequent touchdown scoring play from the Giants’ 7-yard line.

So did Dallas lose because they violated the pace-graph schedule? No. Scoring ahead of schedule was caused by their gaining a lot of yards per play. I do not recommend taking a knee on any such play for the sake of the pace graph when you need a touchdown. You gain as many yards as you can on each play. The Cowboys did need to stay in bounds on this drive, and they did. Field goals are a different matter because they have such high success probability on a single down when within range.

Correct tempo earlier in the second half?

What about being in a slowdown when they had possession and were leading earlier in the second half?

Dallas snapped the ball about :09 too early in the second quarter at the Giants 49 and about two seconds early on the next play which was intercepted. The Cowboys never again had the ball in the second half when they were ahead. So had they been in a max slowdown on those two plays as they should have, the game would have ended about :11 sooner.

Where were the Giants with :011 left in the came? On the Dallas 19—same place where they kicked the game-winning field goal.

Another clock question was whether NY scored the margin-of-victory points just before the end of the first half. No. Dallas actually kicked a field goal just before the end of the first half. The only clock thing they could have done to win might have been to refrain from throwing the incomplete pass on 2nd & 8 at the Dallas 42. That added :40 to the length of the game—enough time to start about seven six-second plays. Where was NY with :40 + :11 left in the game? At the Dallas 41. That would require a 58-yard field goal which is unlikely.

So did Dallas lose the game because of violating my clock management rules? Probably. They violated the pace graph to the tune of :11 and they seem to have violated my Rule 1.20(c) and maybe 1.20(d) which added :40 to NY’s final drive. Those two rules relate to avoiding incomplete passes when in a slowdown tempo.

You may think that a lot of little things contributed to the loss. True, but clock management is the easiest to fix. Had every single thing in the game gone exactly the same, but they abided a little more strictly by my clock-management rules, Dallas probably would have won the game. The Cowboys bought my book a year or more ago.

Every second you leave on the clock unnecessarily may be the one your opponent uses to beat you. Here, Dallas left about :51 on the clock unnecessarily and those :51 second were used by the Giants to beat the Cowboys.

Oakland Raiders vs Kansas City Chiefs , 9/20/09

Just before half, the Chiefs totally blew three almost sure points with bad clock management. They were well within field goal range. the announcers said they had “time to take a shot at the end zone” before kicking the field goal. Apparently, they had no timeouts left.

So how did they throw away an almost sure three points? The “took a shot at the six-yard line” or some such. That is, they completed a pass to that area and the receiver was tackled before he could get out of bounds. The remaining five or six seconds then ran off the clock as the Chiefs tried futilely to line up to spike the ball. They should have “taken a shot at the end zone” like the announcers said or thrown the pass away to get the clock down to :03 and stop the clock until the snap for the field goal.

The Chiefs head coach was pissed. Of course, he is the one who coached the team so...

In the second half, KC lost by 3, the same 3 they blew at the end of the first quarter because of awful clock management. But they still have the $39.95 they saved by not buying my clock management book, so it’s not a total loss.

Washington Huskies vs USC Trojans, 9/19/09

WA won, but unnecessarily risked loss by violating my Clock Management Rule 1.21 which says to run the clock down to :03 at the end of a half before running a final scoring play. They snapped the ball :07 on 2nd down to kick the game-winning field goal which stopped the clock at :03 after the field goal. They should have spiked the ball or “spiked” it out of bounds (takes a couple more seconds) or taken a knee and called timeout to get the clock down to :03 before the field-goal play snap. Because of the violation, WA had to defend a kick return.

Congratulations to WA (unranked) Coach Sarkisian on the tremendous upset victory over #3 USC, but aren’t they paying you enough to learn and abide by simple clock-management rules?

Denver Broncos vs Cincinnati Bengals, 9/13/09

My Football Clock Management book has special clock management rules that I invented. Here is one that related to this game:

Rule 1.20 Slowdown tempo
(m) Delay touchdown
Ball carriers should not cross the goal line until just before a defender arrives

Have you ever seen that happen in an actual game? Probably not unless you were watching this game. With :28 left in the game Denver was trailing 7-6 2nd & 10 at their own 13 with :28 left in the game. Orton’s pass intended for Marshall is tipped up into the air where Stokely catches it. No one can catch him down the left side line. As he arrives at the five yard line, instead of going into the end zone, he hangs a right and runs along the one-foot line still not in the end zone. Finally, when a Bengal is about to arrive, he goes into the end zone scoring the game-winning touchdown. :11 is left on the clock.

After the unsuccessful two-point conversion, Denver kicks off. Cincinnati runs one unsuccessful pass. Game over. Denver wins.

Had Stokely not run along the goal line, and run off some extra time, the Bengals might have been able to run another play.

You need to know another of my clock management rules to understand this. As I said above, this fell under my Rule 1.20 which covers the slowdown tempo. Why, you may wonder, would a team that’s trailing be in a slowdown? Because of my

Rule 1.10 Proper tempo
When your win probability is greater than .500, use a maximum slowdown tempo.

At the snap, with Denver on the own 13, their win probability was less than .500. But during the play, their win probability went from below .500 to about .999. So Stokely had to perform that calculation as he ran down the field. In other words, his coaches had to coach that in the pre-season and remind their players of it often enough so that Stokely would remember it in the heat of a game. He did.

VERY sharp clock management by Stokely and the Broncos!

He should have taken a knee at the one instead

I give the Broncos an A. To earn an A+ though, Stokely would have had to take a knee at the one-yard line. Then the Broncos would have let the clock run down to :03 and kicked the game-winning field goal. Game over.

By doing it the way they did, which left :11 on the clock after the touchdown, they had to defend a kickoff and one scrimmage play. They risked losing the game on either. What if they missed the field goal? Then they lose the game, but you have to make decisions by probability. The probability was higher that they would make the field goal. Missing a field goal from closer than a P.A.T. would be a stuff-happens event, not evidence of poor judgment by Stokely or the Broncos.

The most famous football play in history, the Cal 5-lateral, come-from-behind, TD kick return over the trombone player against Stanford, was enabled by the failure of Stanford QB John Elway to let the clock run down to :03 before he called time out for Stanford’s go-ahead field goal. He called it at :08. That sequence is discussed in more detail on pages 3, 46, 177, 207, and 215 of my Football Clock Management book. (There were also end-of-game celebration-penalty clock-management lessons which caused the kick to be from the 20 rather than the 35 and which would have resulted in a rekick from their 10 had Cal not scored a TD because of the Stanford band coming onto the field during the play.)

Do I have any connection to Stokely’s smart play? I do not know, but here’s a possibility. The NFL guy who showed the most interest in my Football Clock Management book has been Mike Nolan. He was the Niners head coach until the end of the 2008 season when he got fired. He was then hired as defensive coordinator at Denver where he is now.

Two reporters tried to get me to say Mike was a lousy clock manager. I said I would have to do a detailed analysis of multiple games to conclude that. Neither would wait. I said I would be surprised if he was not one of the best clock managers because, as I said, he showed more interest in my book than any other NFL coach.

Maybe Mike shared his clock knowledge with the Broncos. If so, it would appear on this day that he was one of the best clock manager coaches in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Tennessee Titans, 9/10/09

Hines Ward caught a 20-yard pass that got Pittsburg into field-goal range in a 10-10 game at about :53 left in the game. Instead of sliding, he tried to score a TD, but had the ball stripped and Tennessee ran out the clock putting the game into overtime.

Tennessee had two time outs when Ward could have taken a knee. That would have given the Steelers 1st and goal at the Titans’ 14 or so with :53 left. Is that take a knee? Yes, as you can see on page 68 of the third edition of Football Clock Management.

Did Pittsburg violate my clock management rules? My son called me about the end of the regulation. He said he knew Ward should have slid after the catch. I did not think of that. I initially thought he as right to try for the game-winning score although wrong to fumble.

The three issues are when to take a knee on the fly (after you cross a line that means you are going to win like a first down or getting into field goal range), the pace graph (not scoring too soon), and the principle of enough (score enough points to win; additional points benefit you not and trying to score them may cost you the game as could have happened here.

Pittsburg kicked a field goal to win in overtime, but that has nothing to do with analyzing the failure of Ward to slide after the catch.

My clock management Rule 2.02 says,

If the team with the ball is tied or behind by one or two points and within field-goal range, they should take a knee until they can snap the ball with :03 left in the game to kick a field goal.

That is the rule Ward violated. One should ask about the probability of kicking a field goal from the 14. That is a 17 + 14 = 31 yards. The Steelers’ Reed was 8 for 11 from 30 to 39 yards in 2007 so that’s a good enough probability to avoid unnecessary contact.

As a result of this play, I’m going to modify my Rule 3.02 which is now only about getting into the take-a-knee period by gaining a first down. I need to add that the same thing applies when you get into the take-a-knee period by getting into field-goal range which might not be a first-down.

I do not have a rule about the enough principle but it is discussed on page 13 of the 3rd edition of Football Clock Management. Going for more, a two-point conversion, when he could easily have had enough—16-7 score with 8:26 left—with a one-point conversion, cost Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie the 1995 Army-Navy Game.

Ward should have slid down just before contact with a Titan, then the Steelers should have taken a series of knees until there was :03 left on the clock then they should have kicked the game-winning field goal.

What about the possibility of missing the field goal? Stuff happens. You have to go with the probabilities. You do not judge decisions by results, only by what the decision maker knew at the time. What Pittsburg knew when Ward caught that pass in the open field and began running was that they were within high-probability field-goal range therefore they should not risk contact and a fumble.

Two people I saw on the broadcast have my book. I sent Al Michaels one when he and Boomer Esiason got into a clock argument in a broadcast. Boomer was right, but conceded to Michaels as a result of a subsequent play. I told both Boomer and Al that Boomer was right and that the subsequent play was irrelevant and could also be interpreted another way. The details of what I told Boomer and Al in my cover letters to them are on pages 153 and 154 of the 3rd edition of Football Clock Management. Neither Boomer nor Al ever acknowledged my sending them the book, but Al subsequently seemed to make more intelligent clock comments so I surmise he got the book and read it. Their moms should have taught them to send a “thank you” either way.

The other reader of the book was Titans coach Jeff Fisher who called me one day a number of years ago to order my book. We talked for about 45 minutes. His son just started youth football which Jeff had just helped start in Nashville. Because he seems quite innovative and ballsy to me, I sent Jeff a complimentary copy of my latest football book The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense. He never acknowledged it.

Memo to NFL: teach all your head coaches to send “Thank you’s.” I was a speaker along with Bill Walsh, Brian Billick, and Bob Stoops of special a 6/1/2004 NCAA clinic to help minority coordinators get ready for head-coach interviews. Among other things, the curriculum included table manners and how to dress. I kid you not. So teaching the lifelong gym rats who coach in the NFL about common courtesy like “Thank you’s” is not as dumb as it might sound. They taught us that in “Cadetiquette” classes at West Point, when they weren’t teaching us the best spots to bayonet an enemy in combat.

San Francisco 49ers vs Buffalo Bills, 11/30/08

Just before half, Mike Singletary, whose team had a timeout, kicked a field goal with about :11 left on the clock. He could have and should have let the clock run down to :03 so that the kick would have been the last play of the half. Buffalo was unable to score but they should not have had a chance. The announcers commented on it.

Singletary’s predecessor, Mike Nolan, acquired about seven copies of the first, second, and third editions of my Football Clock Management. He would not have made that mistake.

When he was then head coach of the Chicago Bears, current Buffalo head coach Dick Jauron personally called me one day to order my Football Clock Management book. His Bills special team coordinator Bobby April took my clinics on the subject an the 1999 American Football Quarterly University. He would not have made the mistake either.

Green Bay Packers vs Carolina Panthers, 11/30/08

In the Green Bay-Carolina game on 11/30/08, up by 4, Carolina intercepted. The Carolina interceptor fell down, but not by contact. One of his teammates immediately held him on the ground. I do not recall anyone knowing to take a knee in that situation before I wrote about it in my first edition in 1997. My book says he should have run with the ball until he encountered a bad guy at which time he should slide.

Carolina was very close to a quarterback-sweep-slide situation. There was 1:09 left in the game. Green Bay had two timeouts. Carolina tried to gain a first down. They failed. They had to punt with :14 left. The great danger there was a blocked punt or bad punt snap. Green Bay tried to block, they had no receiver back to return, but were unsuccessful. Green Bay got the ball on their own six with :02 left. Their pass fell incomplete.

Carolina might have executed two sweep-slide plays. That would have taken them back to their own 9 and the clock down to around :55 to :57. Then they would execute a take-a-knee play back to the 7. That would take about :03 and the clock would run because Green Bay would be out of timeouts. Carolina would let the play clock run down to :01 then use their final timeout. The game clock would then be around :12 to :14 Their final play would be an intentional safety with the quarterback running to the back corner of the end zone then stepping out of bounds either after the final horn or just before he was touched by a Green Bay player. If they could stretch out the sweep-slides and take-a-knee for another couple of seconds, they could kill all the clock. The same may have been true if the interceptor had run off some clock without risking being tackled.

At worst, this would have forced Carolina to do a free kick after the intentional safety. That beats the hell out of a punt as far a block risk goes. True, this would force Carolina to cover the free kick and need to keep Green Bay out of field goal range. In the event, Carolina got a good long snap and protected the punter in spite of an 11-man rush.

Texas Tech/Texas crowd celebration 11/1/08

With :01 left on the clock, Texas Tech came from behind to score a touchdown against #1 Texas who had been leading 33-32. The TD put Tech up 38-33. But the Texas Tech crowd ran onto the field and tore down a goalpost. Tech was penalized for unsportsmanlike crowd for the crowd behavior. The penalty was to be enforced on the kickoff. Then Tech kicked the extra point to make it 39-32, and the crowd rushed the field again. Another penalty flag was thrown. As a result of the two 15-yard penalties, Tech had to kick off from their own 7 1/2-yard line (first penalty from the 30 to the 15; second penalty from the 15 to half the distance or the 7 1/2).

Texas tried the multiple lateral route to victory. They had no choice. Before the kick, Texas coach Mack Brown was seen on TV asking the officials no to start the clock if they made a fair catch. That is the correct rule. Apparently his preference was to call a fair catch then throw a Hail Mary. But Tech did not cooperate. They kicked a ground ball. You cannot fair catch a grounder, although one of my freshmen did in 2003. Tech intercepted the second lateral then the Tech ball carrier wisely went to the ground instead of trying to score. Such a score would unnecessarily risk a fumble to score points that would only serve to pad the individual’s own stats. My book says to always go to the ground or go out of bounds in such a post-buzzer situation where you have the lead.

Mike Leach and I met in 1998 when we were both speakers at the inaugural American Football Quarterly University. My clock book had just come out. I was a regular columnist for that magazine. We met again in 1999 at the same event where we had the same roles.

I have cited him at my Web site and in my book The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense as one of the most innovative football coaches in the country. I was proud of his victory over #1 Texas and proud of the clock management he and his players employed at the end of the game—although not the out-of-control Tech crowd that almost cost him the game.

First-down reception slide

In the 10/5/08 Broncos-Tampa Bay game, Denver needed two more first downs in order to be able to take a knee for the rest of the game. They completed a pass and the receiver slid to the ground without being hit as soon as he crossed the first down line to gain. That was correct for the second first down they needed, but premature for the first. He should have kept running inbounds until tackled.

I have never seen that done in a TV game before, but all three editions of my Football Clock Management book said to do that. The first edition came out in 1997 and covered the matter on page 97 under the subhead “Taking a knee on the fly.” By the second edition, I had a signal for the clock management assistant coach to use to signal that situation in. He would give the referee’s first down signal (pointing forward of the offense with a stiff arm) then take a knee. That tells the QB to remind his teammates to “Get the first down then slide.” The current third edition covers it in Reed’s Football Clock Management Rule 3.02 and the discussion thereof in the book.

NCAA clock rules changes

In 2008, the NCAA changed its play clock to 40 seconds when there is no official’s timeout. That is the same as the NFL rule except that there is still no two-minute warning official’s timeout in college as there is in the NFL. That means you cannot simply use my NFL take-a-knee and sweep-slide tables now in college football.

Essentially, there already was a sort of 40-second play clock in high school and college because the game clock time that ran off between plays consisted not only of the 25-second play clock, but also an additional 10 to 21 seconds of what I call “ball-placing time.”

What has changed at the college level is that henceforth, the amount of ball-placing time will always be 15 seconds precisely. Since I assumed 35 seconds when I made the High School/NCAA tables that are in my book, I need to create a revised NCAA table that will be five seconds longer than the current High School/NCAA tables.

Unpredictable official’s timeouts

Thinking about this had made me realize that there are five possible clock reasons for official’s timeouts that can screw up the tables. If there is an official’s time out, the play clock is reduced from 40 seconds to 25 seconds. Since the tables assume 40, such a timeout would make the table incorrect. You would not be able to kill as much time as the table says. Six of the reasons for official’s timeouts do not affect the tables’ accuracy because they either change the down or create a non-continuing series situation. The five official’s timeouts that cannot be controlled by the offense are:

Rule 3-2-4-c
3. Media timeout
4. Injury timeout
5. Measurement
11. Instant replay review
12. Other administrative stoppage

The only one of these an offense can possibly affect is to run a play that comes very close to the line to gain for the first down. But even then, the official may deny a request for a measurement. Of course, the take-a-knee tables and sweep-slide tables are for your slowdown so you would NOT want a measurement. Deliberately trying to trigger a measurement would be a hurry-up tactic only when you are on offense. On defense, successfully stopping a ball carrier at a location that triggered a measurement would add 15 seconds to the game. But if the spot did not require a measurement or the offense got the first down, you’re done. So on defense, you’d better stop the ball carrier as soon as you can.

Since these five official’s timeouts are possible, I will add a new, worst-case, all-25-second play-clock set of tables. That may never have happened in the history of football, that is, three successive official’s timeouts for media and/or injury and/or measurement and/or instant replay review and/or “other administrative stoppage.” The all-25-second clock is not likely to ever happen, but it puts a floor on the worst case. Any coach who is still trying to gain a first down after entering the worst-case sweep-slide table period is inarguably behaving incompetently.

NCAA should change the rules

NCAA should assume that injuries to a trailing team player that require official’s timeouts during the sweep-slide period are intentional attempts to conserve time. Accordingly, they should make the play clock after an injury to a trailing team player 40 seconds, not 25. There would be no incentive for the leading team to deliberately trigger an injury timeout. They can run 40 seconds off the clock between plays with no injury and only 25 with an injury.

The general principle should be that these five official’s timeouts do not change the game. By converting what have been a 40-second run off of time between plays to a 25-second timeout, they favor the trailing team over the leading team. That should not be.

Use challenge instead of timeout

49ers coach Mike Nolan, who has shown more interest in my clock books than any other coach, challenged a call in his 9/28/08 game. The penalty was minor. He had a low chance of prevailing. And he did not win the challenge. So why did he do it? Because he was going to use a timeout anyway and he figured why not do a challenge instead because at least it provides a chance that he would win and thereby get the benefits of a timeout without having to burn one. That makes sense. It’s like calling for a measurement as part of a hurry-up when you are out of timeouts or want to conserve them and the play came close to a first down or not being a first down.

Buffalo Bills vs Oakland Raiders 9/21/08

At the end of this game, the Bills had one timeout left and were down by two points. They wisely let the clock run down to :03, called timeout, then kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. Bills coach Dick Jauron who called the :03 timeout purchased my Football Clock Management book back when he was head coach of the Bears. Bills special teams coach Bobby April attended my talk on the subject at the 1998 American Football Quarterly University convention. It was three days long. He told me he just came to hear my talk then he was going back to New Orleans where he worked at the time.

The Raiders had two timeouts left. Even thought the Bills were within field goal range and there was more than a minute left, the Raiders did not use either timeout. They should have used both in hurry-up fashion as stated in my book. Color man Dan Fouts did the game and he said they should have used their timeouts. See the pace graph chapter of my book. Although I live about 20 minutes from the Raiders, got some help from them researching Football Clock Management, and have been written up in the local papers for the book several times, neither Al Davis nor any Raiders coach ever purchased my book as far as I know.

Had the Raiders used their timeouts as I recommend, they would have received a kickoff and had more than one minute to try to kick their own game-winning field goal. They lost the game, in which they had earlier played great.

New York Jets vs Buffalo Bills, 12/30/01

The Jets-Bills game of 12/30/01 seemed to end in a clock-management mess, but I have looked at the play-by-play and see no problem. When they were ahead 14-9, Buffalo tried to punt on 4th & 15 from the Jets 37. That strikes me as a bad idea, although it’s not a clock-management mistake per se. In the event, they fumbled the snap back to the 50 where New York took over on downs with :47 left. With 1st & 10 at the Bills 24, Testaverde spiked the ball to stop the clock at :13. That is correct clock management. Then they completed a pass over the middle to the 17 and had no time outs left. They hustled to snap the ball and did so just before time ran out. Testaverde threw a very inaccurate incomplete fade pass and the game ended.

After the game, the owner and Testaverde implied someone screwed up on the last couple of plays. I don’t know of anyone other than Testaverde who screwed up. He could have thrown to another receiver or thrown more accurately. The fade receiver was covered, but an accurate pass would have at least given the receiver a chance to make a play. The pass Testaverde threw was so high there was no chance to make a play. The Bills special teams screwed up royally on the punt, but the Jets clock management on the last series was OK. Testaverde implied a different play should have been called. He’ll get no support from me. I think a fade pass is as good as any other in that situation. Execute.

Go for it

Economist David Romer of the University of California at Berkeley did a study of 700 NFL games from 1998 to 2000. He found that teams near midfield should go for it on fourth down if they less than five yards to go and that teams inside the opponent’s five-yard line should go for the touchdown on fourth down. The study was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Deliberate lateral out of bounds in NCAA

In the second editions printed before 6/5/06, I said it was legal to lateral the ball out of bounds to stop the clock if a ball carrier could not run out of bounds. Referee Mike Wise corrects me on that. Rule 7-2-1 says it is a five-yard penalty and loss of down and Rule 3-4-3 says the clock restarts on the ready to play signal. There are still some situations where it would make sense to lateral out of bounds to stop the clock, namely, if you needed the clock stoppage and could afford the five yards and loss of down.

Add Football Clock Management Rule 1.10(e)

If the defense has fewer than or more than eleven men on the field, snap the ball as soon as possible to prevent them from correcting the problem.

I got this idea from the 2008 Super Bowl where New England may or may not have done it for that purpose, although their punter may just have inadvertently called for the snap early.

Usain Bolt’s Olympic celebration

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s Olympic celebration did not prevent him from winning the gold in the 100 meters or from setting a world record. But it did prevent him from setting the world record he would have set had he not showboated in the last ten meters of the race. According to Norwegian physicist Hans Eriksen, Bolt would have set a new record of 9.55 to 9.61 with no showboating. Instead, he ran the 100 meters in 9.69. Stupid celebration mistake.

Monday Night Football classic premature mourning by Dallas cancels out premature celebration by Eagles receiver 9/15/08

On Monday Night Football, Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson got open deep, caught a perfect pass from Donovan McNabb, and ran into the end zone untouched. In one of the most bonehead plays of all time, he celebrated prematurely by tossing the ball away backward back into the field of play. Dallas challenged whether the ball crossed the plane of the goal line when it was in his possession. Replay showed it had not. He literally threw away a sure touchdown.

Dallas could have and should have picked up the ball and ran the other direction. But instead they went into mourning over the “touchdown” they assumed had just been scored. They walked away. The officials blew the play dead for lack of interest with the ball resting on the one yard line. After review of the replay revealed that the touchdown had not been scored, Philadelphia, which was the last team to touch the ball, was awarded the ball on the one yard line 1st and goal. On the next play, Brian Westbrook dove into the end zone over the defensive line. After the extra point, the score was Philadelphia 27-Dallas 21.

The loose ball might have been returned for a touchdown if the officials did not inadvertently blow it dead. That would mean the premature mourning cost the Cowboys a point swing of 14 points. At worst, Dallas would have gone three and out and punted the ball out of there. To the extent that such a series would have reduced the number of points scored by Philadelphia or increase the number scored by Dallas, the premature mourning might have lost the game.

In the event, both teams got a field goal before half time. Dallas had to rush theirs, but they made the mistake of calling time out with :09 left rather than :03 for their attempt. Then they had to kick off to Philadelphia. The kickoff was not returned for a touchdown and ended the half.

Dallas won 41-37.

Batting a punt to run out the clock
A high school official brought this to my attention. He has not seen it on the field, but he and I both see it in the rule book. Neither of us likes it and we both agree the rule should be clarified to prevent this tactic.

Team A has the lead but cannot take a knee because it is fourth down and they have to punt. After the ball is kicked, there will be about ten seconds left in the game. The principle would apply, albeit less finally, at the end of the first half.

The Team B receiver decides to get away from the ball. (By the way, I hate punt returners who do not catch catchable balls on the fly or who do not return bouncing balls where there is little danger of a muff in the presence of kicking team members. It is a firing offense on my teams generally.)

The punting team members start batting the ball back toward the end zone behind them as explicitly permitted by NFHS Rule 9-7-2 exception. They keep on batting until time runs out. By rule 6-2-5, the receiving team gets the ball at the spot of first touching by the punting team, but that does them no good if there is no time left on the clock.

I think it violates Rule 3-6-2-f as delay of the game. In that case, the ball should be moved five yards toward the leading team’s goal line and the batting time put back on the clock. The official says it cannot be delay because the ball is live. I guess the logic of that would be that the penalty is for preventing “promptness in putting the ball in play…” and the ball is already in play while it is being batted.

Obviously, the sole purpose of the rule is to enable the punting team to prevent the ball from going into the end zone for a touchback. But that only takes one bat generally. Using the rule repeatedly just to prevent the trailing team from running any more plays during the remaining time is anti-competitive and unsportsmanlike. It is reminiscent of the 9/10/78 Raiders-Chargers “Holy Roller” play that was promptly outlawed in the NFL.

Until the rule is changed or clarified, receiving teams should make sure they catch such a punt to prevent serial batting. If they are not going to do a kick return, they should fair catch it to maximize the time remaining in the game.

I think the referee should stop the clock when the ball would have stopped after the first bat under the general rule 1-1-6 which says,

The referee has authority to rule promptly, and in the spirit of good sportsmanship, on any situation not specifically covered in the rules.

1/5/08 Wild Card Playoff game between Jags and Steelers
Watching the end of the Jags victory over the Steelers I thought the Jags screwed up their clock management and made the victory far tougher than necessary. Specifically, I thought they should try for another first down rather than take a deliberate delay penalty in the final minutes.

So I looked at the official play-by-play that you can see for yourself at Here are the details of the key time in the game and my comments about the decisions Jacksonville made.

Reed comment
3-2-PIT 43 2:00 incomplete pass The announcers commented and I agree that JAX should have made sure they snapped the ball for this play before the 2:00 warning. They were in a hurry-up mode which means they should snap the ball ASAP and they did not.
4-2-PIT 43 1:56 QB scrambles up the middle for 32 yards to the PIT 11 At this point, the two teams both needed to switch clock management gears 180 degrees. Before this play, JAX should be in a hurry-up and PIT in a slowdown. After this play, the opposite. The reason is that JAX became the favorite as a result of the play. Before the play, PIT was the favorite to win.
timeout #1 by PIT at 1:34 Steelers called this timeout too slow. The play probably took about six seconds. They should have called timeout immediately after the play ended at 1:50
1-10-PIT 11 1:34 run loss of two correct clock management
timeout #2 by PIT at1:30 correct clock management, Jags within FG range so Steelers need to conserve time for their post-FG comeback
2-12-PIT 13 1:30 run to PIT 8 correct clock management
timeout #3 by PIT at 1:25 correct clock management
3-7-PIT 8 1:25 run to PIT 2 correct clock management
4-1-PIT 2 :40 Jags deliberately took delay penalty This is where I thought maybe they should go for the first. I had not been aware of the down. Since it was fourth down, they did the right thing. Announcer John Madden said he would have gone for a touchdown then settled for the field goal on fourth down. He’s wrong. Jags coach Jack Del Rio did the right thing. Madden needs to study the decision trees in my Football Clock Management book and get someone to explain expected value to him. Madden said he does not take “chip shot” field goals for granted. Neither do I, but that’s not the correct analysis. The correct analysis is what course of action is most likely to lead to a victory. In a decision tree, you choose the branch that has the highest expected value. The fact that high-probability events like chip shot field goals sometimes fail is irrelevant. You make the decision that is most likely to result in victory. It it misses, that’s life.
4-6-PIT 7 :40 FG good Jags take lead at 31-29 correct clock management

The clock management by Jags coach Del Rio was correct. Parenthetically, in 2006, I got into a long conversation with the owner of Amador Valley Exercise Equipment in Dublin, CA. He is a friend and former trainer of Jack Del Rio, who is from nearby Hayward, CA. The trainer was very excited about my depiction of my clock management book and said he was going to tell Del Rio about it. I do not know if he did. I do not recall a subsequent order for the book from the Jags. But I cannot say for sure whether a team does not have the book because coaches move around from team to team and some buy using a name that would not reveal who they are.

In their second possession of the fourth quarter, Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger violated my clock management rules by getting tackled on a two-point conversion attempt from the 12 yard line (after a holding penalty on the first attempt). He should have lateraled rather than allow himself to be tackled. In a PAT play, the defense getting possession means the play is over. They cannot score or gain any advantage on the subsequent play—a kick return—from a take away on a PAT play.

Had Rothlisberger lateraled successfully and the lateral resulted in PIT scoring the 2-point conversion, which I admit would have been unlikely, the later JAX field goal would merely have tied the game. Unlikely or not, you never allow yourself to be tackled or knocked out of bounds on a two-point conversion play in the NFL or high school. You must always lateral once it becomes apparent that you will not get into the end zone. In NCAA, that rule does not apply because they allow the defense to run the ball back for a two-point defensive touchdown at that level.

Brian Billick fired
In a newspaper column by Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston, Ravens head coach Brian Billick was said to have been fired in part because of his clock management. I was surprised by that because Brian bought my book at the 1998 American Football Quarterly University where he and I both gave clinics. We also talked on the phone and exchanged a number of emails. In one, he said he might have me come to Ravens as a clock-management consultant. He never did.

I never focused on his clock management and recall no reports that it was incorrect. When a coach screws up the clock, I usually hear about it. So I wonder what Preston’s basis was. My book has never been criticized as being wrong, so Preston in essentially accusing Billick as not having applied the book’s advice, in effect. (I have no reason to believe Preston knows anything about my book.) Knowing Brian’s intelligence, approach to the game, and the having discussed my book with him at length, I would be very surprised if he was truly guilty of bad clock management other than the usual reluctance of NFL coaches to use some clock tactics that the public and columnists like Preston might not understand, like my quarterback sweep slide play instead of taking a knee when there is too much time left to take a knee.

Hang-time throwaway just before NFL two-minute warning
My son Dan pointed out to me that a hang-time throw away (deliberate maximum-distance incomplete pass) on a quarterback sweep-slide play that will end after the 2:00 in the NFL would kill more time than taking a knee or the quarterback sweep-slide play because of the flight time of the incomplete pass. As always, the hang-time throwaway pass must not be caught by anyone, but it must also not trigger an intentional grounding penalty.

Deliberate lateral out of bounds in NCAA
In the second editions printed before 6/5/06, I said it was legal to lateral the ball out of bounds to stop the clock if a ball carrier could not run out of bounds. Referee Mike Wise corrects me on that. NCAA Rule 7-2-1 says it is a five-yard penalty and loss of down and Rule 3-4-3 says the clock restarts on the ready-to-play signal. There are still some situations where it would make sense to lateral out of bounds to stop the clock, namely, if you needed the clock stoppage and could afford the five yards and loss of down.

Page 150 of second edition books printed before 8/9/01 says 120 seconds is enough time to run ten stop-the-clock plays. It should say 20 stop-the-clock plays.

Page 153 of books printed 9/1/01 and before says Notre Dame’s Rudy Ruettiger brags that he was the only Notre Dame player ever carried off the field by his teammates. It should say “the last player carried off the field by his teammates.”

Page 59 of books printed before 11/19/01 said it had to be 2:00 and 1 time out left at the time of the first-down snap in the NFL to take a knee. It should have said 1:28.

Page 60 of books printed before 11/19/01 said it had to be 2:00 and 1 time out left at the time of the first-down snap in the NFL to sweep slide. It should have said 1:40. Also, change the down 1 gained end from 2:40 to 1:59.

Clock Management Rule 1.20 (c) ends with the phrase “especially on the first three downs.” Change that to “on the first three downs of a series”

The Jets-Bills game of 12/30/01 seemed to end in a clock-management mess, but I have looked at the play-by-play and see no problem. When they were ahead 14-9, Buffalo tried to punt on 4th & 15 from the Jets 37. That strikes me as a bad idea, although it’s not a clock-management mistake per se. In the event, they fumbled the snap back to the 50 where New York took over on downs with :47 left. With 1st & 10 at the Bills 24, Testaverde spiked the ball to stop the clock at :13. That is correct clock management. Then they completed a pass over the middle to the 17 and had no time outs left. They hustled to snap the ball and did so just before time ran out. Testaverde threw a very inaccurate incomplete fade pass and the game ended.

After the game, the owner and Testaverde implied someone screwed up on the last couple of plays. I don’t know of anyone other than Testaverde who screwed up. He could have thrown to another receiver or thrown more accurately. The fade receiver was covered, but an accurate pass would have at least given the receiver a chance to make a play. The pass Testaverde threw was so high there was no chance to make a play. The Bills special teams screwed up royally on the punt, but the Jets clock management on the last series was OK. Testaverde implied a different play should have been called. He’ll get no support from me. I think a fade pass is as good as any other in that situation. Execute.

Go for it
Economist David Romer of the University of California at Berkeley did a study of 700 NFL games from 1998 to 2000. He found that teams near midfield should go for it on fourth down if they less than five yards to go and that teams inside the opponent’s five-yard line should go for the touchdown on fourth down. The study was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

\ Click on the items below to go to those Web pages.

1997 Football Clock Management News

1998 Football Clock Management News

1999 Football Clock Management News

2000 Football Clock Management News

Jets Ravens 11/14/04 game

An interesting clock-management game I have heard about but not yet researched: 1993 Peach Bowl Clemson over Kentucky