I am the author of the book Football Clock Management, which is now in its second edition. After the 11/14/04 Jets-Ravens game, I was called by the Star-Ledger newspaper, WFAN Radio, and CBS Sports about my opinion on the Jets clock management in the game. CBS Sports asked me to overnight my book to them which I did. I included a written analysis of the game. They did not use any of my thoughts on their NFL Today program so I am publishing a modified version of them here to avoid it going to waste.
My book Football Clock Management contains several pages of rules that coaches and players must adhere to in order to avoid losing the game for clock management reasons. One set of rules says you should generally slow down when you are ahead. There are exceptions. See the book.
The Jets had a 7-0 and 14-0 lead in the first half. Did they comply with the slowdown rules during that period? They did on their first possession after they took the lead, but not on their second and third possessions. I did not see the game or a tape of it. I would have to see the game to be sure, but from the NFL play-by-play, it appears that they left about 81 seconds on the clock unnecessarily during the time when they were ahead in the first half. The Ravens scored a 7-point touchdown with :46 left in the first half. Had the Jets not made that mistake, they would have won in regulation 14-7.
At the end of the first half, the team in possession of the ball needs to decide whether to try to score before half or kill clock. This is a judgment based on field position, time remaining, timeouts remaining, and how the teams offense has been doing thus far against the opponent in this game. Generally, if you think you can probably score, you should try to do so. If you think you probably cannot score before halftime, you should kill clock so your opponent cannot score during the half. Which did the Jets do against the Ravens?
They probably should have killed clock because they had 1st & 10 at their own 20 with :40 left after a touchback kickoff. The Ravens had used all their timeouts. The Jets would have to get to about the Ravens 30 to attempt a field goal. Thats 50 yards. With :40 left, they can run about 7 plays at best. Since they have to save the 7th play to kick the field goal, that leaves six plays to go 50 yards. That requires an average of 8 yards per play plus stopping the clock after each play. The Jets had all three timeouts left, but 50 yards in :40 seconds is still unlikely.
I would not criticize their trying to score before half. As I said, its a judgment call.
What I do criticize is their doing neither. They ran inside twice and threw a short pass. Thats not likely to score and did not. If they were just running out the clock, the could have and should have just taken a knee and walked off the field. That would not risk any injuries. Their three plays did unnecessarily risk injury for nothing.
They could also have yelled take a knee to their players then run a pass play instead hoping the Ravens would not be fully alert to stop it. That would be controversial, but until they make a rule against it, it is legal. If something is worthy of an unwritten rule, it should become a written rule. I hate unwritten rules because crybabies are constantly making them up after plays in which they got beat.
The outraged Jets fans seem to have focused on the last two minutes of the game. At the two-minute warning, the Jets had 1st & 10 at the Ravens 17 with all three timeouts remaining. The maximum number of plays they could run would be eight because they can only get one more first down. Dividing 120 second by eight plays give 15 seconds per play. That is what I call a pace-graph situation in my book. Pace-graph situations are end-of-half situations where you want to score, but not do it so fast that the opponent has time to come back and score themselves. One pace-graph situation is being down by eight or less at the end of a game. The Jets were down 14-17 at the time.
The Jets should have tried to score a touchdown to win the game. However, they seemed to behave as though a field goal putting the game into overtime would be enough. Thats what they did and they lost in OT.
In the event, the Jets got a first down in three plays. That changed the maximum number of plays they could run to seven, not eight. They only ran six as it turned out.
Did they use 15 seconds per play? On average, they did, which is OK, but they seemed to panic when they had third and three with :08 left. They should have tried once more to get into the end zone, but they kicked a game-tying field goal instead. The typical play lasts about five seconds. You can run plays that take less time when necessary. In this case, a five-second play would have been fine. They still had a timeout left when there were :08 left in the game.
Kicking a field goal with :08 left is a classic clock management mistake. Above, I complained about the decision to settle for a field goal when there was still time for one more game-winning touchdown attempt.
Now I am going to assume that the decision to go for the field goal was correct and show how the Jets screwed that up, too. You do not kick a half-ending field goal at :08. You do it at :03. Why? So the clock will run out during the kick and you will not have to defend a subsequent kickoff and possible scrimmage plays after the kick return.
In the most famous play in football history, Stanfords John Elway may this same mistake. In the 1982 Big Game between Stanford and Cal, Elway got Stanford into field goal range with his team down 17-19. Elway then called timeout with :08 left in the gamesame as the time left in the Jets-Ravens game. Elway, who was the son of a college coach, immediately realized his mistake and hit himself in the forehead with both hands. The Jets apparently never realized their mistake.
In the 82 Big Game, Stanfords kick was good, but :05 were left on the clock so they had to kickoff to Cal after a 15-yard celebration penalty. The rest is history.
In a more recent Conference Championship game, a late kick to the Titans resulted in a backward pass and the Titans winning the game and going to the Super Bowl. Bottom line: do not leave time for a kickoff on the clock after a field goal if you can avoid it. Could the Jets have avoided it? Yes. They should have thrown a deliberate incomplete pass on the third-and-three play, making sure they were not penalized for intentional grounding. That would have stopped the clock at :03, then they send in the field goal team and tie the game. Time runs out while the kick is in the air. No 5-lateral or backward pass touchdown.
So the clock management mistake was not just at the end of the game. It was multiple mistakes throughout the game. This is typical of NFL games.
I did not analyze the Ravens clock management in this game. Ravens head coach Brian Billick has a copy of my book and he and I have discussed it on a number of occasions.