San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh expresses his displeasure with one of Sunday's calls. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Green Bay fans were upset by the result of the offsetting penalties called on Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews and San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley. But as it turns out, referee Bill Leavy and his crew blew not one, but two calls on a single play, and the result appears to be a relative wash from a results perspective.
With 9:30 left in the first half of the 49ers' 34-28 win, Matthews was flagged for hitting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after he had run out of bounds, and Staley was subsequently handed an unnecessary roughness penalty for mixing it up with Matthews in a sideline scrum. It looked as if Matthews should have been flagged again or ejected, as he was throwing more punches that Staley, but he wasn't penalized further. Problem was, Leavy's crew decided that the down should be replayed, when the rulebook says that offsetting dead-ball fouls do not result in a replay of the down.
“On the play where the quarterback went out of bounds and was hit late out of bounds, and then there was a subsequent hit by a San Francisco player, the down should have counted,” Leavy said. “The penalties were both dead ball, and they should have offset at the spot where the runner went out of bounds. And it would have been fourth down.”
Thus, the 49ers should have had 4th-and-2 from the Green Bay six-yard line, as opposed to 3rd-and-6 from the 10. Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin for a touchdown on the next play, leaving everyone to wonder what could have been for the Packers had it been ruled fourth down.
The second blown call was revealed on Monday, when the league said upon review that Staley should not have been flagged, and that the 49ers actually should have had 1st-and-goal from the Green Bay three-yard line. So, the 49ers -- who were thought to have received a gift -- were actually put in a hole when they should have been able to try to pound it in from closer inside the red zone.
NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino told Steve Wyche of the NFL Network on Monday morning that he spoke to Leavy right after the game, and that Leavy recognized that there had been a mistake "a couple of plays later." Blandino, talking about the down-and-spot error, not the erroneous flag on Staley, said that mistakes like that can't happen going forward.
"That's a blown call," Blandino said. "It's a mistake, and we've got to make sure that doesn't happen again. We do a training tape every week with highlights from the previous week's games, and that play will obviously be a part of it. We'll explain the enforcement so that all of our officials understand what the proper enforcement is, and we can make sure this doesn't happen in the future."
Blandino also said that while the NFL's Competition Committee has discussed the idea of people in the league office communicating with officials during games, he believes that the ultimate decision has to be on the field.
"The referee and his crew, they have to be able to officiate the play," Blandino said. "Mistakes will happen, they shouldn't happen in a situation like this where there's a rule enforcement, but the officials have to be able to officiate the game."
And even if Leavy had received a call about the dead-ball fouls, it would appear upon review that a 4th-and-2 for the 49ers would have been an even more egregious result given that the correct interpretation of the rules would have resulted in a no-call on Staley.
Blandino and the league deserve credit for handling this with transparency, but Matthews isn't the only one who should be fined for this play, as he undoubtedly will be. Leavy and his crew should feel it in their wallets, as well.