Vying for an NFC West title, Sunday’s thriller between the Seahawks and 49ers went down to the wire at CenturyLink Field, as San Francisco held on for a 26-21 victory in the closing seconds.
Unfortunately, the instant classic didn’t end without controversy in the closing moments, and the NFL’s response may not do anything to ease concerns about the efficacy of the replay process for fans.
Trailing by five points with under three minutes to play, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson marched his team all the way to the 49ers one-yard line, looking to add to his league-leading five game winning drives. An untimely delay of game penalty moved Seattle back five yards, but with 22 seconds remaining, there was plenty of time to finish off a furious fourth quarter rally.
Facing second down after spiking the ball to stop the clock and the five-yard penalty, Wilson misfired on second down looking for Tyler Lockett. On the ensuing play, Wilson tried to connect with tight end Jacob Hollister, who was covered by linebacker Fred Warner in the end zone.
As Hollister tried to turn back to make the catch, Warner clearly latched onto him with his left arm, impeding his ability to reach for the football. The ball sailed to the back of the end zone for an incompletion, but despite all of the contact and the obvious hold, officials didn’t throw a flag.
With Seattle unable to challenge inside two minutes, it was up to the NFL to initiate a review from New York. Senior VP of Officiating Al Riveron indicated the league did review the play and decided it didn’t warrant pausing the game for a closer look.
“Well, we actually looked at it here in New York. We had a great look. NBC gives us a great look at the entire route. So, we actually did perform a review, but based on what we saw, we didn’t see enough to stop the game.”
According to Riveron, Hollister initiated the contact with Warner, but it wasn’t viewed as a foul. Warner reached around Hollister in response, but there wasn’t “clear and obvious visual evidence” that the defender hindered the receiver’s ability to catch the ball.
“Again, nothing which rises to the level of a foul based on visual evidence,” Riveron explained. “Nothing happens that rises to the level of a foul while the ball is in the air before it gets there by either player.”
When asked after the game whether he thought he was interfered with by Warner, Hollister chose to take the high road.
“We’ll have to watch it on film. I felt him grabbing me, but you don’t get every call, so I didn’t get that one.”
Coach Pete Carroll admitted he hadn’t seen the replay yet when speaking to reporters, but his comments made it apparent several players and coaches in the Seahawks locker room felt it was an obvious penalty and warranted a more substantive review.
“I just saw it live and in color, I didn’t see the replay of it,” Carroll commented. “Everybody has an opinion. You guys know more than I do… I was busy doing other stuff.”
If the penalty would’ve been called via review, the Seahawks would’ve had 1st and goal at the one with 12 seconds left on the clock. Instead, the incompletion brought up 4th and goal and Hollister was brought down just short of the goal line on a shallow crosser, ultimately ending the game.
As a result of the devastating loss, Seattle dropped to the No. 5 overall seed and will now travel to Philadelphia for the wild card round next weekend. If the team can find a way to win a playoff game or two, they may have a shot at avenging the defeat with a rubber match against San Francisco next month.