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Niners' Harbaugh: No-fumble call 'analogous with the tuck rule'

  • By Dan Hanzus NFL.com
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Earnest Byner made championship game history with The Fumble. Twenty-four years later, the 49ers are lamenting The Fumble ... That Wasn't.

It happened with 2:29 remaining in regulation of Sunday's NFC Championship Game. With the score tied at 17, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw caught a pass from Eli Manning and had the ball stripped before he went to the ground at New York's 21-yard line. The 49ers recovered the ball, putting them in prime position for the winning score.

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But the play was blown dead, with game officials ruling Bradshaw's forward progress had been stopped before the ball popped loose.

The Giants retained possession and punted the ball out of their territory. The 49ers never sniffed the red zone again in a heartbreaking 20-17 overtime loss.

"In my opinion, that was a fumble," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said during his news conference Monday. "I'm sure the league will defend it and the officials will defend it. But to me, that play was still going on. There was still struggling by Bradshaw. ... I felt like it was analogous with the tuck rule."

Of course, the tuck rule hurt the Bay Area's other team, the Raiders, 10 years ago when officials said Tom Brady's arm was in a passing motion late in a divisional playoff game that New England went on to win.

In this case, because the whistle was blown, Bradshaw's fumble occurred in a dead-ball period. That meant the play wasn't reviewable.

A league spokesman confirmed to NFL.com and NFL Network that game officials made the correct call, citing this portion of the league's rule book:

"Rule 7, Section 2 (b) of the NFL Rule Book (page 35) covers "dead balls." The rule states: "An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended: (b) when a runner is held or otherwise restrained so that his forward progress ends." That was the immediate ruling yesterday, which is not subject to a replay review."

The question remains if the play truly was over when the ball came out. Giants fans always will say yes. 49ers fans always will say no. Where do you stand?

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