January 8th 2003
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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The final play of the 49ers first round playoff victory over the Giants has been widely talked about by now. The botched field goal attempt, on third down, in which the ball was snapped poorly, picked up and tossed to a Giant offensive lineman downfield (who had reported as eligible to the referees), who was yanked to the ground by Chike Okeafor has been subject to lots of criticism from the media, New York fans, and even the commissioner of the NFL.
On the play, the referees correctly called a Giant defender as illegally down field. That defender however was not the one being yanked down by the 49ers defensive end, despite wearing an offensive linemanís number. The result was no pass interference being called and with time expiring on the clock, a 49ers victory.
The NFL has reviewed the play and come to the conclusion that Okeafor should indeed have been called for pass interference because the player he yanked down was eligible. Has this been called, it would have given the Giants another opportunity to kick the field goal, because a half of football can not end on a defensive or off-setting penalty. It wasnít called though, and the 49ers were left victorious.
Lost in all this confusion however, seems to be whether or not the pass was even catchable. The pass interference rule stipulates that the ball must be catchable for the interference to take place. Unfortunately ďcatchableĒ is arbitrarily defined by the referees. A look at the replays however show the ball quite a distance away from the receiver as he was going down, leaving me to believe, perhaps the ball couldnít have been caught even if Okeafor was not in on the play.
Truth of the matter is, this play will be debate for a long time. The officials didnít have the knowledge to make the right call. It happens all the time in the NFL, and it happened many times throughout the Wild Card game, even on an apparent Ahmed Plummer interception that was ruled in complete. I can recall many a Green Bay and Dallas game where the calls went the other way too. Itís unfortunate it happens this way, but thatís the human element of football, and we simply have to live with it, whether we agree with the calls or not.