For NFL officials, this has been the year of reviewable pass interference; the year of ridiculously unclear directives, heightened pressure and increasing distrust between those legislating the game and those playing and coaching it from the sideline. Just last weekend, the disparity between pass interference calls overturned and not overturned may have reached its infuriating apex.
And the last thing any official wants, especially amid this sent-from-hell set of circumstances they’re working under in 2019, is to be discussed publicly. Any respite from headlines would be a welcome one.
But on Sunday, in the waning moments of a chaotic 49ers-Falcons tilt in which two calls were overturned in the matter of minutes resulting in a seismic change to the NFC playoff picture, they earned a mention for getting something right.
Here’s how it went down, starting on the second-to-last play from scrimmage of the game with the Falcons trailing 22-17….
• Eight seconds remaining: Second-and-goal from the 49ers’ five-yard line, Matt Ryan hits tight end Austin Hooper toward the back of the end zone and officials call a touchdown after a brief pause. Hooper appears to lose control of the ball briefly on his way down to the turf, switches to one hand and eventually cradles the ball between his legs. The official along the back end of the goal line calls a touchdown. Since all scoring plays are reviewed, the play automatically triggers a second look from officials. The call is overturned after it becomes obvious that Hooper did not maintain control to the ground.
Total review time: Two minutes, eight seconds.
• Four seconds remaining: Third-and-goal from the 49ers’ five-yard line, Matt Ryan throws to Julio Jones who is dragging across the field with his back against the end zone. He’s hit immediately by Jimmie Ward and D.J. Reed and the official patrolling the goal line from the near side comes sprinting in to rule the ball down at the one-inch line. Upon review, Jones throws his body back like someone on the verge of a trust fall and in that movement manages to force the ball across the goal line. After a brief review, the call is overturned, giving the Falcons a touchdown.
Total review time: One minute, 35 seconds.
In fewer than four minutes, the 49ers went from the top seed in the NFC to the No. 5 seed. In fewer than four minutes, Dan Quinn went from a forgotten coach to one admirably battling the perception that he won’t be working in Atlanta a few weeks from now. And, quietly, over the course of those minutes, officials showed how effectively powerful they can be in a short period of time, so long as the question at hand contains a clear set of rights and wrongs.
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