GREEN BAY, Wis. - On fourth-and-4 from the Packers' 36 in the fourth quarter, Geno Smith took the snap from Nick Mangold and faded back to pass. The Jets trailed the Packers 31-24 with 5:06 left, and Smith needed a big play to give his team a chance to tie it.
Smith got that big play, making a perfect throw to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who leaped over a defender and pulled in a touchdown pass to pull the Jets to within an extra point of tying the score.
Or so it seemed.
While Smith was getting set to take the snap, an official near the Jets' sideline had blown his whistle and signaled a timeout. None of the Jets' players could hear the whistle. They finished the play and thought they'd completed a dramatic comeback. But the play didn't count because it was, in fact, blown dead before the snap. After a lengthy conference with Jets coach Rex Ryan, referee Walt Anderson announced the play did not count.
The Jets wound up converting the fourth down on the next play on David Nelson's 6-yard catch, but a later fourth-down pass to Kerley fell incomplete with 3:31 left, and the Packers ran out the clock to secure the 31-24 win.
It was a wacky series of events that even Ryan didn't fully understand after the game. All he knew was that he hadn't called a timeout.
"I don't know if Marty called it or Geno called it. I just know they blew it dead as a timeout,'' Ryan said.
A reporter suggested to Ryan that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had signaled the timeout. But even then, there was some confusion. A replay indicated that yes, Mornhinweg was signaling a timeout, but at the last second, he appeared to back off that decision, waving his arms like an umpire declaring a baserunner safe.
"I just know for a fact that I did not call the timeout,'' Ryan said.
Another factor: The Jets' Sheldon Richardson was on the sideline and approached an official, whose back was to the Jets' bench, and called timeout. The official blew his whistle and called the play dead. "That's all on me,'' Richardson said. "I saw Marty calling a timeout and I was into the game. I knew it was crunchtime. So I didn't know if he wanted a timeout or not. I just know he called it and I helped him out a little bit and I whispered in the referee's ear, 'Timeout.' [The official] called [timeout] before the ball was thrown.''
"It's just bad timing on my part. I feel like I let the team down on that one. It just happens when you're into the game like that. It was a miscue on my part. I could have given us another chance to keep fighting.''
Some Packers defensive players said after the game that they heard a whistle before the snap, but most -- if not all -- appeared to be playing hard to the conclusion of Kerley's catch. After the play, Tramon Williams, who was beaten by Kerley, waved his hand in a manner that indicated he didn't think it would count.
NFL rules stipulate that only the head coach or a player on the field can call a timeout. However, because the timeout call came so close to the snap, the official's call still was the correct one, according to NFL spokesman Michael Signora.
"The officiating crew correctly granted the timeout,'' he said. "When a snap is imminent, game officials are instructed not to turn their attention away from the field to verify who is calling the timeout. A game official should not grant the timeout only if he is certain it is not being requested by the head coach.''
So if the official wasn't certain that it was not Ryan calling the timeout, he was within the rules to call it.
This wasn't the first time Ryan was involved in a play like this. When he was the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2007, he called timeout from the Baltimore sideline just before a fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter of a game against the Patriots.
With the Ravens ahead 24-20, Tom Brady was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak. But because the play had been blown dead, the Patriots kept possession and went on to win the game, 27-24.
"Of course, that would be our fashion; we would score the touchdown and there would be the timeout,'' Ryan said of Sunday's sideline gaffe. "I've been involved in one of those before [with Baltimore]. Obviously, that's a huge thing, but we still had life. We were still going. Once that play happens, you move on and you play the next down.''
Unfortunately for Ryan, he ran out of downs at the end.