John Keim | ESPN.com
LANDOVER, Md. — The Washington Redskins thought they had a first down, as did the chain gang on their side of the field. One group did not think so and, ultimately, it was the group that mattered: the officials.
And that led to controversy near the end of the Redskins’ 24-17 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night.
It started with a second-and-5 completion to receiver Pierre Garcon to the Redskins’ 45-yard line with 1:37 remaining. Though the confusion started because at least one official felt Garcon had a first down, according to Washington coach Mike Shanahan, Garcon was marked short — and yet the chains on the Redskins’ sideline were moved as if he’d been awarded a first down.
There was little doubt among Redskins players that they had a first down. There was no doubt for referee Jeff Triplette that it was third down.
“We signaled ‘third down’ on the field,” Triplette told pool reporter Zac Boyer of the Washington Times. “The stakes were moved incorrectly. After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The chains just got moved incorrectly.”
Redskins players saw the chains and thought Garcon made a first down.
“The chains moved right away and it was first down,” guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “Next thing I know, it’s not. … We thought it was first-and-10, so we ran the play. Next thing we know, it’s fourth-and-1 all of a sudden. I don’t know how they can take it back. I feel if it’s marked, you have to go with it. That changes everything for our offense.”
We signaled ‘third down’ on the field. The stakes were moved incorrectly. After that play, we said it was still third down. We had signaled third down prior to the play starting. The chains just got moved incorrectly.
” — Jeff Triplette, referee
Shanahan said he asked for a measurement following Garcon’s catch but that an official told him it wasn’t necessary.
“He said, ‘You don’t have to, it’s a first down,'” Shanahan said. “I saw it as a first down on the other side and he signaled to move the chains on our side. I asked him if it was third down. He said he already told me it was a first down. … After I saw it was fourth down, I asked him, ‘You already told me it was first down.’ That was quite disappointing.”
Shanahan said the official, whom he did not name, didn’t respond.
His claim that he was told it was a first down was relayed to Triplette.
“I can’t respond to that,” Triplette said. “I don’t know what happened. I just know that we had signaled third down.”
Giants players didn’t think Garcon had gained a first down.
“When I saw the marker said ‘first down,’ I was trying to signal to Coach [Tom] Coughlin, like, ‘You might want to challenge that.’ Because it was not a first down,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “He was short. Lucky for us it worked out, but it wasn’t a first down. Everybody on the field could see that.”
Said Giants linebacker Jon Beason, “What it looked like, they marked it first down on one side and not on the other side, so they thought they had a first down even though they didn’t. He [Shanahan] was upset, and he’s over there yelling, and I was talking to him saying, ‘But you didn’t get it.’ I don’t think he could hear me, but I was pointing. It wasn’t a first down. Everybody makes mistakes, I guess.”
On third-and-1, the Redskins called a downfield pass to tight end Fred Davis, who dropped it at the New York 30.
“Coach [Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinator] called that play thinking it was first down,” quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “Then we come back and we think it’s second-and-10 and they’re yelling out it’s fourth down. No explanation, no measurement. Didn’t stop the clock to allow the chains to move back.”
On fourth down, Garcon caught a short hitch that would have resulted in a first down, but safety Will Hill stripped him of the ball and recovered it for the Giants (5-7).
Griffin said Kyle Shanahan had called a play thinking it was second-and-10. After the Redskins (3-9) realized it was fourth down, Shanahan had to change the call.
“Anytime you have a sequence of plays, you’re not going to call a quick hitch on fourth-and-inches,” Mike Shanahan said. “So obviously it’s going to affect our play call.”
Griffin said it did not cause confusion in the huddle.
“We try to stay in the moment,” Griffin said. “If the refs call it fourth down, we try to make sure we’re treating that as a fourth-down play. This is it. We have to convert this to continue to go on. Tried to stay in the moment and then after the fact think about how everything transpired.
“We did a good job of that and got a good play. It just didn’t turn on.”
Information from ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano contributed to this report.
- Covered the Redskins for the Washington Examiner and other media outlets since 1994
- Authored or co-authored three books on the Redskins and one on the Cleveland Browns