In a rare and unexpected turn of events, the AFC Championship game at M&T Bank Stadium was momentarily suspended on Sunday, as officials spotted a drone hovering nearby. This unusual incident occurred with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter, leading referee Shawn Smith to call for an administrative timeout, a rarity in NFL history.
After a brief commercial break, CBS announcer Jim Nantz informed viewers that the pause was due to a drone sighting near the stadium. This interruption aligns with the Federal Aviation Administration's stringent regulations, which impose a temporary flight restriction over NFL stadiums during games.
These rules prohibit any aircraft, including drones, from flying within a three-mile radius of any NFL or MLB stadium that can accommodate 30,000 or more fans, as reported by the Associated Press. This policy ensures the game's safety and integrity, prompting the NFL to halt play until such security concerns are adequately addressed.
Interestingly, this isn't the first drone-related disruption for Baltimore this season. In Week 11, the Ravens' Thursday night bout against the Bengals was briefly interrupted for a similar reason.
Multiple Drones Grounded
In that instance, authorities swiftly located the drone operator, who was then instructed to ground the drone.
Remarkably, a total of five drones were identified during that game, posing a unique challenge to the NFL, particularly as they hope to avoid a recurrence in the high-stakes AFC title game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh, reflecting on the November incident, expressed his surprise, comparing it to the unexpected power outage during the Super Bowl.
"We saw them up there — drones. That's a first," Harbaugh remarked. "I thought I'd seen it all with the Super Bowl, the lights going out at the Super Bowl. Now we got drones flying around." Thankfully, the disruption during the AFC Championship was brief, lasting only a few minutes before the game resumed smoothly.
This incident adds another chapter to the NFL's ongoing efforts to balance the thrill of the game with the evolving challenges of maintaining security and safety in a high-tech era.