While Joe Buck is no longer calling the MLB postseason for Fox, he and Troy Aikman had a funny Rangers based conversation on Monday. Photo Credit: ESPN Joe Buck and Troy Aikman call Monday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Las Vegas Raiders. Photo Credit: ESPN

The idea of players faking injuries to stop the clock, react to an opposing formation, or set up a particular personnel set (without using a timeout) has long been a discussion in football. But it’s not a discussion often heard in straightforward and blatant terms on broadcasts. It was Monday night, though.

There, ESPN’s Monday Night Football team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman brought discussion of fake injuries up at a couple of points around a potential injury to the Minnesota Vikings’ T.J. Hockenson. This started with more than eight minutes left in the second quarter, with the Vikings facing a first and goal from the two-yard line.

What happened there? Well, this came after a 30-yard pass play to Cam Akers. And Minnesota tight end T.J. Hockenson was limping a bit, and looked to be coming off the field. But he then went down on the field instead and received some attention. And Aikman initially expressed concern for him, but Buck then said they got a camera shot of Vikings’ head coach Kevin O’Connell telling Hockenson to go down:

Buck then walked that back a bit, adding in the context of Hockenson limping:

But this came up again in the third quarter around Hockenson going down again, with that one actually coming after contact:

There are a number of things to keep in mind here. For one thing, this wasn’t a case of a fake injury for clock (there were more than eight minutes left in the half) or formation (as Hockenson started to come off before either side was set) reasons. And there was an actual injury of some level to Hockenson, with him looking like he was going to go off the field. And the Vikings weren’t at all subtle about this, with O’Connell caught by cameras yelling “Get down”; there might have been pre-arranged hand signals or something if the idea was for an uninjured player to go down. And there are legitimate health-only reasons why a coach might make that comment; just because players feel they can limp off doesn’t mean that’s the best thing for them, as that could further aggravate an injury.

But there is a case for the Vikings receiving at least a minor advantage from the way this was handled, as an injury timeout can be better than the game continuing with a running clock even outside of the final minutes of a half. Let’s look at the 2023 NFL rulebook, sections 5.2 and 5.3, on injury timeouts outside the two-minute warning (inside the two-minute warning, teams get charged with a timeout outside of some specific exceptions, as detailed in 5.4):

If an official determines a player to be injured, or if attendants from the bench come on the field to assist an injured player, an injury timeout will be called by the Referee. If the ATC Spotter identifies a player for medical attention, the rules pertaining to Injury Timeouts in Article 3 and Article 4 (c) apply.

When an injury timeout is called, the injured player must leave the game for the completion of one down. The player will be permitted to remain in the game if:

a. either team calls a charged team timeout;
b. the injury is the result of a foul by an opponent; or
c. the period ends or the two-minute warning occurs before the next snap.

At the conclusion of an injury timeout, the game clock will start as if the injury timeout had not occurred. If either team takes, or is charged with, a timeout, the clock will start on the snap.

So yes, Hockenson had to come out for at least one play as a result of this (with that rule there to specifically reduce the idea of faking injuries). But him going down on the field still probably wound up beneficial to the Vikings versus him limping off. For one thing, they then had more time to think about a first-and-goal play without taking a timeout.

For another thing, there was then more time ahead of the second-down play, allowing Hockenson more chances to come back after treatment. And he’s an important target for Minnesota, with 11 receptions on 12 targets Monday for 86 yards). So there’s potential value to a delay that maybe gave him the chance to get back in on these sets of downs, especially if that comes without the loss of a timeout.

None of this wound up specifically mattering too much here. The Vikings were stuffed on a first-down run, then threw two incomplete passes (neither to Hockenson), then kicked a field goal. And they won 22-17. But there was still a potential situation where Hockenson going down rather than coming off could have directly impacted the play.

And while there’s nothing seemingly specifically prohibiting Hockenson from going down on the field, or from O’Connell calling to him to do so, it certainly didn’t seem purely necessary from his own initial plan to limp off.  And it was notable to hear Buck and Aikman not only pick up on that and discuss it, but directly reference it again later.

That’s not something typically heard on the generally league-friendly NFL broadcasts. And it got a lot of attention. It also comes with risk; beyond the idea of upsetting the league or the teams involved, this could make announcers look bad if an injury they think is exaggerated does wind up being serious. And it will be interesting to see if there’s further discussion of “go down” comments on broadcasts going forward.

[Awful Announcing on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.