UPDATE: The NFL released an official statement on Monday saying the officials in the Chargers-Chiefs game erred:
On the play, San Diego lined up with seven men on one side of the snapper. This should have been penalized as an illegal formation by the defense.
Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b) (1) of the NFL Rule Book (page 51) states that “No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap.”
The penalty for illegal formation by the defense is a loss of five yards. This is not subject to instant replay review. Had the penalty been assessed, it would have resulted in a fourth-and-seven from the San Diego 18 with 0:04 remaining, enabling the Chiefs to attempt a 36-yard field goal.
The NFL will reportedly concede on Monday that its officials may have cost the Pittsburgh Steelers a playoff spot when they failed to penalize the San Diego Chargers for having more than six players on one side of the long snapper on Kansas City Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop’s game-winning field goal attempt with eight seconds remaining in regulation on Sunday in San Diego.
ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio reported on NBC’s Sunday Night Football that the NFL will admit on Monday that the officials in the game should have given the Chargers a five-yard penalty on Succop’s missed 41-yard field goal attempt because San Diego had seven players (pictured) on one side of the line of scrimmage when NFL rules only allow six. The referees did not throw a flag, and Succop missed the field goal that could have sent the Steelers into the playoffs. He should have gotten a re-kick–a 36-yard field goal attempt. And had Succop made the attempt he should have been awarded, Pittsburgh would have miraculously made the playoffs.
Here is the NFL rule in question:
(a) When Team A presents a punt, field-goal attempt or a Try Kick formation, a Team B player, who is within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads at the snap. (b) When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation: (1) No more than six Team B players may be on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper at the snap; Penalty: For illegal formation by the defense, loss of 5 yards from the previous spot. (2) Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation. Penalty: For unnecessary roughness, loss of 15 yards from the previous spot
Earlier in the year, New England Patriots rookie Chris Jones was penalized 15-yards for pushing his teammate during a New York Jets field-goal attempt that decided the game in favor of the Jets.
After starting the season 0-4 with injuries at numerous positions, all the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to do to sneak into the playoffs was to win on Sunday and then hope that the Miami Dolphins, the Baltimore Ravens, and the San Diego Chargers all lost.
Incredibly, that almost happened. The Steelers (8-8) almost got the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, but Succop missed that 41-yard field goal and San Diego beat the Chiefs 27-24 in a wild overtime in which the Chargers faked a punt inside their own territory on their first drive in overtime that was also controversial. Kansas City seemed to return what appeared to be a fumble on that play for a touchdown to win the game, but the officials ruled that San Diego’s Eric Weddle’s forward progress was stopped. Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira disagreed with that interpretation:
Replay did not stop the game because the ruling of forward progress is not reviewable. Should have been a strip and TD in my opinion.
— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 30, 2013
Earlier in the day, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Ravens, 34-17. The New York Jets defeated the Miami Dolphins, 20-7. The Steelers took care of business and defeated the Browns, 20-7.
That meant San Diego would make the playoffs with a win over the Chiefs or a tie while Pittsburgh would only make the playoffs with a Kansas City win over San Diego.
And Kansas City, which sat its starting quarterback, Alex Smith, running back, Jamaal Charles, and a host of other starters to rest for next week’s playoff game, was leading for most of the game before San Diego tied the game with less than five minutes left and eventually won the game, taking the sixth and final AFC playoff spot.