With less than two minutes remaining in a classic Super Bowl and the Baltimore Ravens clinging to a five-point lead, the San Francisco 49ers encountered a fourth-and-goal situation at the Ravens' 5-yard line. Under heavy duress, Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick sailed a throw beyond Michael Crabtree's outstretched arms, essentially handing Baltimore the Super Bowl XLVII title. But contact on the play between Crabtree and Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith raised more than a few eyebrows.
Kaepernick's poor throw was the play's biggest problemI have no issue with the no-call. Michael Crabtree pointed out after the game that a better throw might have drawn a flag, but Colin Kaepernick's toss was essentially uncatchable.
The officials were allowing a lot of contact all game. Jimmy Smith probably did hold Crabtree, but the infraction wasn't so blatant that the 49ers can blame the officials for the result of the game. Picking up the Ravens' blitzer or throwing a better pass could have also made the difference.
Officials got it right by letting the players playOn the biggest stage in sports, the officials did what they were supposed to do: let the players play. We heard too often about fastidious officiating this season, and now 49ers fans are upset about a call that didn't happen? Well, this shouldn't have been an issue in the first place.
As dominant as Michael Crabtree has been, he should have exploded on an outside release to the pylon rather than running directly into Jimmy Smith. It was Crabtree's poor route, along with an inability to separate, that caused the physical tangle.
Officials were correct not to have thrown a flag.
Penalties like that one should always be called, regardless of the circumstancesAbsolutely -- they should have thrown the flag. The rules of the game are in place for safety reasons, as well as to make the game fair for both sides. The rules should be called the same whether we're talking about a regular-season game or a postseason game. (Teams should not play under one set of rules to get into the playoffs and another to win once they're there.) When you "let teams play," you risk injury and chaos, among other things. Also, how do coaches know what to tell their players if they don't know how the game will be called?
When I was on the competition committee, we discussed the concept of "letting them play" in the playoffs. None of the members -- myself included -- felt the rules should be called any differently in the playoffs.
Niners should understand, as they benefitted from a no-call in the NFC title gameThe official CANNOT make the call in that situation. The game should be decided by the players on the field, and it's on Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree to make a play on fourth down. The ball was thrown a few yards out of bounds, which made it highly unlikely that it would have been caught, anyway.
Furthermore, the 49ers benefitted from a non-call in the NFC Championship Game (NaVorro Bowman holding Roddy White), so they should understand how the game is officiated in the closing moments.
Niners have no one to blame but themselvesYou can argue all you want, but I think the flag debate is overblown for a few reasons. Number one, because of the lack of awareness from Michael Crabtree in that situation. He stayed engaged with Jimmy Smith and even put his hand over Smith's facemask in an attempt to try to scramble to the ball. That's the wrong call, because when the officials see both players hooked onto each other, they're never going to throw a flag. What Crabtree needed to do was, in essence, "flop" and show that Smith was keeping him from getting to the ball. Fall down. Throw your arms up in the air. Something. Because Crabtree couldn't immediately break free from Smith, he had to know, right away, he wasn't getting to that football. Crabtree should have adjusted on the fly to try to get a new set of downs. If he had done that, I might be able to get behind a flag debate.
Not to mention the fact that Colin Kaepernick's pass was a poor one -- even if Crabtree catches that ball, there's a 50-50 chance he even stays in bounds. And speaking of 50-50 chances, now you know why my least favorite play in the NFL is the end-zone fade. It's exactly that: a hit-or-miss play. I want better than a 50 percent shot on a fourth-down play from 5 yards away with a Super Bowl title on the line. San Francisco's play-calling on those final four downs was atrocious. The Niners were caught between trying to score and trying to take time off the clock -- and that never works out. They got too cute and blew it. It's that simple. You can't fail to execute and then blame a non-call.