George Johnson recorded the first sack of his NFL career last Sunday against the Washington Redskins…or so he thought at the time. Turns out, that’s an experience he’ll get to have twice in his pro career.
Johnson was actually credited with a half-sack on Sunday, splitting it with linebacker Mason Foster when the two buried QB Robert Griffin III seven yards deep in the backfield, just inches from a safety. Johnson was playing in just the sixth regular-season game of his NFL career, having split time between the practice squad and the active roster in 2011 after spending all of his 2010 rookie season on injured reserve.
On Wednesday, however, that sack was erased from the records as part of the weekly game tape reviews conducted by the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statisticians of the National Football League.
The results of each play in an NFL game are first recorded by a stats crew on hand at the stadium. Elias statisticians then go through game tape and review anything tricky, especially if alerted to a specific play by one or the other of the teams involved. If video evidence suggests that a play was scored improperly, Elias will issue an updated ruling, which can occasionally change the statistics involved in the play.
That’s what happened to the sack originally credited to Johnson and Foster. On the play, Griffin takes a shotgun snap and is pretty quickly overwhelmed by Foster, Johnson and LB Lavonte David near the goal line. At the time, it seemed pretty clear that the play was a sack. However, Elias’ review of the play noted that all three receivers on the field immediately started blocking on the play, and that Griffin appeared to pause for just a moment before starting to run up the middle of the field. RB Alfred Morris, who is lined up behind Griffin at the snap, rushes up the middle of the field and tries to throw a block on Foster but misses.
All of the evidence added up, in the eyes of the Elias statisticians to a designed running play, and it’s possible that the Washington coaching staff verified that opinion earlier this week. As such, the stop of Griffin – since it wasn’t a passing play – is not officially considered a sack. Instead, both Johnson and Foster get a tackle for loss.
As a result, the Buccaneers’ defense has eight sacks through four games, not nine. The ruling did marginally help Tampa Bay’s already good rushing defense numbers, as that play is now scored as a run for a loss of seven.
These kinds of statistical reviews happen relatively often and generally don’t generate much attention. Even in this case, the overall effect for the Buccaneers’ stats is negligible…it didn’t change how many yards were lost on the play or, more obviously, the outcome of the game. For George Johnson it means waiting a little longer for his first official sack, but the game tape that led to the Elias review still shows a young player making a very good play.