The Elephant in the Locker Room: Were You Screaming at Your TV Sunday Night, Too?

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Just before halftime. New England takes the lead 14-12. Seattle with the ball at their own 25-yard line and 1:05 to go. Three timeouts available.

A key third-down looms with 9 yards to go.

Wilson passes to for Graham for 14 yards. Big first down! Timeout!

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A TV timeout during a two-minute drill? With less than 60 seconds on the clock?!?!?!

WTH???? Are you joking?

Only in frigging New England. I’m up on my feet, ranting at the TV. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this.

To back up a minute. The usual drill when a team takes a timeout during the game is to go to a commercial break. These ordinarily last two minutes. Typically, though, the only time coverage goes to a commercial inside the two-minute warning is after a score or an injury. Most often you get a “30-second timeout,” which is what a normal timeout is when there’s no TV break. If a game has featured a lot of punting, for instance, you’ll even see 30-second timeouts in the middle of the second or fourth quarters of a game.

It’s not often, though, that you see a commercial break in the middle of a team’s 2-minute drill. Not at all.

So I simmer down a little after the commercials are through.

Next play. Belichick’s defense has had extra time to regroup and shuts down Seattle’s next called pass play. Wilson instead scrambles for 6 yards, slides, and calls timeout…


And the referees call for another two-minute advertisement break.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!! On consecutive plays?!?!?!?

Oh my gosh, am I screaming at the TV. Arms flailing. Feet stomping. Foaming at the mouth.

To back up a little bit more. When an offense is trying to move quickly down the field for a score, it’s best advantage is to keep the defense on its heels. Hence the “hurry-up” offense that many teams use when they’re either a.) behind, or b.) not having much luck with their standard offense, or inside the two-minute warning, or c.) Chip Kelly. Most often, the last thing you want to do is give the defense more time to scheme. And all of the time, you never want to give Bill Belichick more time to scheme. (cf. Seattle’s final offensive play of a certain Super Bowl.)

So here’s the NFL actually giving more time to Belichick on a silver platter while Seattle’s trying to score. Sheesh! My conspiracy-proof brain starts to melt down.

No matter. Back from the second TV gift of minutes, Wilson passes 24 yards to Tyler Lockett. Timeout #3… 30-second timeout. Whew! After another 12-yard pass to Prosise, and without pausing to stop the clock, Wilson scrambles and passes for 18 yards to Baldwin and a TD.

Take that, Mr. Belichick. 7 plays, 75 yards, 59 seconds.

So in the wake of my fury, I decided I need to brush up a little on my rule book. How in the heck did New England end up the beneficiary of two TV timeouts during Seattle’s final drive of the half?

Well, to be honest, it’s still a mystery. Nobody is writing about it, and the most current available information about TV timeouts is three years old. But this is what I found out and confirmed from various alternate sources. According to a Q&A at,

During an NFL game the league requires a total of 20 commercial breaks per game. These are split evenly with 10 breaks per half, (Overtime periods aren’t required to have commercial breaks). Each commercial break runs for between 1 and 2 minutes in total length.

Of the 10 breaks per half 2 are shown in mandatory positions, at the end of the first and third quarters and the 2 minute warning. The remaining 8 breaks are optional; the timeouts can be applied after field goal tries, conversion attempts (1 or 2 points) following a touchdown, changes in possession (both punts and turnovers) and kick-offs (except the first kick-off of each half or a kick-off within the last 5 minutes of the game). The commercial breaks are also carried out during injury breaks, booth reviews, team challenges and during a team called timeout.

If a network needs to catch up on their commercial breaks the referee’s will discuss this during the 2 minute warning with the other officials and team coaches. This is when any additional Network timeouts will be decided upon.

To summarize: If sufficient network-sold ads have not yet had time to air prior to the 2-minute warning, the networks will instruct officials to go to commercial when teams call timeouts prior to halftime. The objective is for 10 TV breaks each half. And, reportedly, as of last season, a total of 21 for the game.

But here’s the deal. These were the first-half TV timeouts taken prior to Seattle’s drive:

  1. NE 7 SEA 0
  2. NE 7 SEA 3
  3. NE punts
  4. NE 7 SEA 6
  5. Post-kickoff
  6. End of Q
  7. NE 7 SEA 12
  8. Gronk fumble review
  9. Seattle punt
  10. 2-minute Warning
  11. NE 14 SEA 12

So there you have it. Eleven TV breaks prior to Seattle’s drive.

Two more TV breaks during Seattle’s scoring drive. While they’re trying to score against the Patriots. In New England.

Can someone explain this to me? I’m still kind of hot under the collar.


After four playoff appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us weekly for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

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