In a game with a razor thin margin like the St. Louis Rams' season opener against the Detroit Lions, the little things matter greatly. A missed interception, a blown assignment, a third down not made or mismanagement of the clock can change the outcome. The Rams were the victims of a clock error late in the game, as the seconds wound down to the two-minute warning. Had the replacement referees caught the mistake, things might have played out differently in the last two minutes.
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Fast forward to the Rams' second-to-last drive, the one that ended with Greg Zuerlein's 46-yard field goal to give them a 23-20 lead.
2nd-and-12 from the Lions 31-yard line
(2:45) (Shotgun) 8-S.Bradford scrambles right end to DET 28 for 3 yards
Bradford slides at the 2:38 mark. There's some confusion as to whether or not he's out of bounds, but they say that he is not and the clock keeps on ticking ... except for a four or five second delay where it sticks at 2:38.
There's confusion on the sidelines. Fisher calls a timeout at 2:03, just as the play clock winds down to one second.
Seems normal enough, right? The Rams come back onto the field after the timeout, run the 3rd-and-9 play that features an incomplete pass to Danny Amendola, which you can see here (courtesy or Chad Yuhnke, @squick3n).
A few fans quibbled with that play, but it should have never happened. Look at the clock and the play clock when Fisher calls the timeout.
Now look at those clocks right as Robert Turner snaps the ball to Bradford on the 3rd-and-9 play.
Notice anything? I didn't either until a friend of the site walked me through it.
Bradford's scramble ends and the refs blow the whistle at 2:38. They should have 40 seconds on the play clock to run the next play. Since the clock did not stop - well, it did for a few seconds, but not officially - the Rams should have been able to go to the two-minute warning without burning a timeout or running that ill-fated third down play.
The official made a big mistake getting the clock and the play clock synced up.
You can go back and point out any number of things that could have made the difference in the outcome. If Jo-Lonn Dunbar is on his man, Kevin Smith might not have scored the winning touchdown.
Still, it's hard not to wonder what might have happened had the Rams not taken a timeout and come back onto the field for 3rd-and-9 after the two minute warning. They would have been able to burn even more time off the clock, likely forcing the Lions to take a timeout, their last one, prior to the Rams field goal. Instead, they were able to use it on the last drive, the winning drive.