The first half of the St. Louis-San Francisco game ended in bizarre fashion (Tavon Austin narrowly avoided a safety while trying to return a missed field goal), but it was merely a precursor to the game's stunning conclusion.
The 49ers were mere inches away from pulling out a dramatic win when QB Colin Kaepernick fumbled on a 3rd-and-goal sneak from the Rams' one-yard line. Linebacker James Laurinaitis came out of the pile with the football, even as several of Kaepernick's teammates lobbied for a touchdown call from the officials.
The final ruling: a turnover and a touchback, preserving a 13-10 upset victory for St. Louis.
And just like on the second quarter's final play, replays provided little help on Kaepernick's fumble.
(GIF via Bleacher Report)
The ball obviously slipped from Kaepernick's hands at some point -- Laurinaitis stood up with the football in his hands as the officials tried to sort out what had happened. But was Kaepernick's knee down before the fumble occurred? Had he managed to get the nose of the football to the goal line? There was nothing terribly conclusive in regard to either question, which means that referee Jerome Boger had no real option but to stick with the call on the field, as he had done for the controversial Austin non-safety earlier.
Two plays earlier, WR Michael Crabtree had come within millimeters of his own potential game-winning touchdown, as he made a diving grab on a Kaepernick pass. However, Crabtree came down just shy of the goal line and then tumbled out of bounds. That play was reviewed, too, with the call standing; there was no explanation offered for why the clock continued to run afterward, despite Crabtree rolling out of bounds untouched.
The debatable officiating proved a nuisance for San Francisco, but the final result was a self-inflicted wound.
The 49ers line had been mangled all day to the tune of eight sacks, so asking it to provide a push behind rookie center Marcus Martin with the game on the line was rather dodgy. Doing so with the ball in Kaepernick's hands, as opposed to those of RB Frank Gore, further set the stage for disappointment.
Of course, the fumble was the absolute worst-case scenario. Even if Kaepernick had been stopped short, the 49ers could have called their final timeout and kicked a field goal to force overtime.
Instead, Kaepernick put the ball on the ground, the Rams recovered and the 49ers fell to 4-4 on the season.