Buffalo’s spike didn’t fit within the rules, but officials allowed it given the circumstances
Lost in the multiple mistakes made by referee Walt Anderson’s crew just before halftime on Monday night in Seattle, all of which worked against the Bills, was a potential blunder that helped Buffalo.
When trainers attended to kicker Dan Carpenter following an uncalled act of unnecessary roughness, Carpenter had to leave the field for one play. So the Bills opted to burn that play by spiking the ball.
The only problem? The rulebook expressly permits spikes by the passer to stop the clock. On Monday night, the clock wasn’t running.
Here’s Rule 8, Section 2, Article 1, Item 3: “A player under center is permitted to stop the game clock legally to save time if, immediately upon receiving the snap, he begins a continuous throwing motion and throws the ball directly into the ground.”
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the spike was allowed because of the extenuating circumstances arising from the sequence of events. The real question, however, is whether the officiating crew specifically acknowledged that loophole and allowed it, or whether they simply didn’t think of it.
Regardless, a decision to burn a play by spiking the ball doesn’t fall fully within the scope of intentional grounding. Consider Rule 8, Section 2, Article 1: “It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver.”
In this situation, the Bills weren’t facing an “imminent loss of yardage"; they were merely trying to check the box in order to get their kicker back.
Moving forward, it would make sense to add a line or two to the rule book that would account for this situation in the future. Which would make the rule book even longer. But that’s one of the reasons the rule book is as big as it is; there are many situations that occur during a game, and the best approach is to account for as many of them as possible.