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NFL admits mistake in Browns win

The Associated Press

BEREA – As it turns out, Pittsburgh quarterback Kent Graham wasn’t the only one who goofed up in the closing seconds in the Steelers’ 23-20 loss to Cleveland on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

BEREA – As it turns out, Pittsburgh quarterback Kent Graham wasn’t the only one who goofed up in the closing seconds in the Steelers’ 23-20 loss to Cleveland on Sunday.

The officials didn’t help the Steelers, either.

Graham, who had already used up Pittsburgh’s final timeout, was sacked on the final play by Courtney Brown and the clock expired as the Steelers tried to line up for a tying field goal.

But the Steelers were informed by the NFL on Monday that they should have been given at least five more seconds to get off the short kick.

”They confirmed there was a mistake made,” said Ron Wahl, the Steelers director of media relations. ”They called to clarify what happened. The rule is clear that they should have stopped the clock after the sack.”

According to the rule book, a referee should stop the clock ”any time the player who originally takes the snap is tackled behind the line of scrimmage.”

And in the final two minutes, it stipulates ”the game clock shall be restarted as soon as the ball has been spotted for the succeeding down, at which time the referee is to give the ready signal. In all cases, a minimum of five seconds must have elapsed before the ball is made ready for play.”

Trailing by 3, Pittsburgh had first-and-goal at the Cleveland 8 with 35 seconds left when the Steelers called their final timeout. On first down, the Steelers ran for 2 yards and Graham rushed to the line to spike the ball, wasting a down but stopping the clock with 14 seconds remaining.

On the next play, Graham dropped back to pass, but when he couldn’t find an open receiver in the end zone, he stepped up in the pocket instead of throwing the ball away and was tackled by Brown.

What followed looked like a poorly planned fire drill as the Steelers scrambled in desperation to get in their field-goal unit.

As the Browns celebrated their first home victory in two seasons, Steelers coach Bill Cowher walked dejectedly to the locker room not realizing his team should have been given more time.

”In the heat of the moment, no one gave it too much thought,” Wahl said.

Graham, who was criticized for failing to throw the ball away, took the blame afterward. On Monday, he learned he wasn’t the only one who had a bad day.

”They’re supposed to give me five more seconds,” he said. ”But maybe when you’re playing on the road they don’t give you that luxury.”

Steelers owner Dan Rooney has been around the league long enough to know that these things happen and that complaining about the call wouldn’t do any good anyway.

”The game’s over,” Rooney said.

Dwight Clark, Cleveland’s director of football operations, said the Browns didn’t realize the officials erred until is was brought up in a team meeting Monday.

”I think typically they stop the clock after a sack,” Clark said. ”But I’m not going to question the officials. Sometimes the calls go your way and sometimes they don’t.”

Asked if the play tainted Cleveland’s second win, Clark said, ”Absolutely not.”

The Browns were upset with another matter in the game, however.

Cleveland punter Chris Gardocki had the wind knocked out of him late in the first half when he was drilled from the side by Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter. Porter and linebacker Jason Gildon had tried to rough up Gardocki on an earlier punt.

”It was definitely premeditated,” Clark said. ”Pittsburgh tried to play bully ball, they tried to beat up our punter.”

Browns coach Chris Palmer said the team would make the league aware of their displeasure with Porter’s hit.

”I just don’t think there’s a place in football for that,” he said. ”When the punter is still in his follow through and watching the flight of the ball, he’s not fair game.”

After being helped to his feet, Gardocki made his feelings known to Porter and the Steelers by making an obscene gesture at Pittsburgh’s bench.

Clark said the Browns aren’t asking the league for any special penalties against Porter.

”What I want is Gardocki not fined,” Clark said. ”I would settle for that. I know the coach wants more.”

Porter’s cheap shot was just the latest chapter in the Browns-Steelers’ rivalry, which has had its share of late hits over the years. They’ll meet again Oct. 22.

”It’s great that it happened in the first game,” Clark said. ”At least we know the rules now.”