|NFL: Niners should have been flagged for interference
ESPN.com news services
NEW YORK -- This should make dejected New York Giants fans
feel even worse: The NFL said the refs botched the call on the
final play, an unusual admission about an unusual game.
A pass-interference penalty should have been called against the
San Francisco 49ers at the end of their wild 39-38 playoff victory,
giving New York another chance to kick a game-winning field goal,
said Mike Pereira, NFL director of officiating.
The refs ruled correctly that New York had an ineligible
receiver downfield. But they did not throw a flag when Rich Seubert
was yanked to the ground as he tried to catch a pass near the end
zone after the Giants bungled the field-goal attempt.
"How they missed that, I do not know,'' Giants coach Jim Fassel
said. "That is very disappointing.''
The teams would have had to replay the down with an offsetting
pass-interference penalty, said Pereira, who reviewed videotape of
the play. Seubert was an eligible receiver even though he is
usually a guard.
"Although time had expired, a game cannot end with offsetting
penalties. Thus, the game would have been extended by one untimed
down,'' the league said.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue commented on the play Tuesday.
"What happened at the end in terms of the breakdown of officiating was totally unacceptable to us and it shouldn't have happened with the mechanics already in place," Tagliabue told Sporting News Radio. "We are going to be thoroughly reviewing how the breakdown occurred and make certain that it doesn't happen again."
The New York Times reported in its Wednesday editions that "everything is open" for review in terms of how the league should handle situations like this, according to Pereira, including the possibility of an on-site supervisor who can help officials make calls on situations mot covered by instant replay.
"We should stay on the field to get all the information we need before we get off," Pereira told the newspaper. "When it's volatile and people are running on the field, we always exit the field quickly. But we have to make sure we cover all our bases."
The Giants blew a 24-point lead -- the second biggest in playoff
history -- but still had a chance to win with the 41-yard field goal
with six seconds left.
New York fumbled the snap and couldn't get the kick off. So
holder Matt Allen scrambled and threw a desperation pass to
Seubert, who was pulled down by 49ers defensive end Chike Okeafor
at about the 4-yard line.
"There was so much commotion at the end that there was nothing
I could do about it. I couldn't challenge it. I couldn't do
anything,'' Fassel said.
When asked Sunday night about not making the call, referee Ron
Winter said: "There was no pass interference. The receiver was
ineligible.'' However, it was unclear if he was referring to
Seubert or Tam Hopkins, who lined up as the left guard and was
illegally downfield on the pass.
Seubert lined up as an eligible receiver. He told the
officiating crew before the game that he would be in that position
on field goals.
Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi called the refs' mistake a
"bitter pill to swallow,'' but he said his team shouldn't have
been in that position.
"The officials didn't blow a 24-point lead,'' he told ESPN.
"The officials didn't mess up the field goal in the first place.''
It was a cluttered ending to an exhausting game, but the 49ers
didn't apologize Monday for their victory. After all, they're still
convinced that Ahmed Plummer intercepted a pass by Kerry Collins
two plays before the botched field goal.
When Pereira called 49ers coach Steve Mariucci to explain the
league's statement, Mariucci simply said: "Bummer.''
Actually, Mariucci thought Okeafor would be called for pass
interference, but when he wasn't, the coach joined his team in the
"That's the way it goes,'' Mariucci said. "What do you want me
to say? Just like coaching and playing, in officiating, there's
never going to be a perfect game.''
Okeafor admitted he interfered with Seubert and said he expected
the refs to throw a flag on him.
"Woulda, shoulda, coulda. I'd have done the same thing again,''
Okeafor said. "I wasn't going to let him catch it, score and be
over then. I was at least going to make them use another play, give
us another chance.''
While the NFL's admission was surprising, controversial endings
and questionable officiating are nothing new to playoff football.
Last year, an apparent fumble by New England quarterback Tom
Brady was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass toward the end of a
playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots got the ball
back, won the game and went on to become Super Bowl champions.
In 2000, the Tennessee Titans pulled off the "Music City
Miracle'' on a controversial call in the final seconds.
Kevin Dyson ran 75 yards for the winning touchdown after
catching a lateral from Frank Wycheck on a kickoff return against
the Buffalo Bills, who argued in vain that the lateral was actually
an illegal forward pass.
|New York's Rich Seubert, an eligible receiver on the play, gets dragged down by San Francisco's Chike Okeafor before the pass gets to him.|
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.