Officials nail it in NFC title game

How about that noise in the Georgia Dome on Sunday at the NFC Championship Game?

You probably thought I was referring to the fandemonium, where the Atlanta crowd’s cheering reached nearly 110 decibels seemingly every time San Francisco touched the ball.

Nope, I was talking about the noise the upstart 49ers and their unheralded rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick keep making in these playoffs. San Francisco knocked off the top seeded Falcons 28-24 — the first time the NFC’s No. 1 seed has lost at home in a title game in 10 years — to advance to Super Bowl XLVII.

And oh, brother, speaking of noise and upstarts, how rambunctious will New Orleans be now that it’s Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh? Baltimore made it a visiting team sweep Sunday by going to New England and knocking off the Patriots 28-13.

The Atlanta-San Francisco game was well played and well officiated by referee Terry McAulay and his crew, with only six total penalties called; four on the 49ers and two on the Falcons.

But I want to focus on two critical plays that took place in the fourth quarter of the game

PLAY 1

THE SITUATION: Atlanta had the ball, third down and 2 at the 50-yard line with 4:21 left in the game. San Francisco led 28-24.

THE PLAY: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan completed a 22-yard pass to Harry Douglas after San Francisco’s Carlos Rogers had fallen down. Douglas dove for the ball, but it was questionable whether the ball hit the ground first. San Francisco challenged the completed catch ruling and after a review, the play stood as called.

MY TAKE: There were three things to consider on this play. The first was whether Douglas had possession of the ball before he hit the ground. The answer to this question was yes.

The second question was whether he lost possession of the ball when he hit the ground. The answer was . . . it’s hard to tell. The ball did move when Douglas hit the ground, but his left hand remained on the ball, which to me means he didn’t lose possession. The ball always moves; that wasn’t the question. The question was did he lose possession, which you couldn’t prove in my mind.

The last question was whether Douglas maintained possession after he hit the ground and was rolling over. The answer to that was clearly yes. Long story short, since it was ruled a catch, there was not enough indisputable visual evidence to overturn it.

PLAY 2

THE SITUATION: Atlanta had the ball, fourth and 4 at the San Francisco 10 with 1:13 left in the game. San Francisco led 28-24.

THE PLAY: Ryan dropped back and threw a pass to Roddy White at the 6-yard line that was knocked away at the last second by NaVorro Bowman. The 49ers took over on downs.

MY TAKE: To me, this was the play of the game and the biggest decision the officials had to make.

Bowman stepped up and chucked White at the 5-yard line, which is legal since Ryan had not yet passed the ball. White then broke to the inside and Bowman stuck his left hand in to knock the pass away. It was just a great defensive play.

Yes, there was contact, but the chuck occurred before the pass and the contact after that was not enough to be considered pass interference. I have seen flags thrown in similar situations, but in my mind, those calls were incorrect. It takes a certain discipline — one that I feel is actually harder — to stay away from calling the DPI in that situation.

After that play, a din fell over the Georgia Dome. It got quieter than the Atlanta Public library.

Prior to that, picture a jet engine. Then picture yourself standing right next to it. That’s how loud it was.

Interestingly, stadiums are noisier than they’ve ever been . . . and the rules about noise now are as lax as they’ve ever been.

There used to be a rule regarding crowd noise that stated that the referee could acknowledge a request from a visiting quarterback and stop the game. If the referee felt that the noise was such that offensive players lined up outside the tight end position could not hear the signal calls by the quarterback, he would make an announcement to the crowd telling them that if they didn’t quiet down, the home team would be subject to a charged time out or a penalty.

The rule never worked. Once the referee made the announcement, the crowd just got louder.

So prior to the 2007 season, the NFL eliminated the rule. Not only did the rule not work, but visiting teams were transitioning to silent counts, which eliminated the need for anybody to hear the quarterback.

The NFL still had some non-playing rules that dealt with the home team trying to incite the crowd through the use of video messages or artificial sound. You could not generic messages like “make noise” or “get loud” onto the scoreboard —both of which happened in Atlanta on Sunday.

The old rule also stated that the home team could not play any club-controlled artificial noise when the play clock was running, including music or the home-team announcer encouraging fans by screaming "thiiiiirrrrd down" — something that also happened here Sunday.

Those rules are also gone none. Now teams can put any messages they want on the scoreboards. And until there are 15 seconds left on the play clock, teams can play club-controlled sound or cheerlead.

In other words, the NFL has recognized that the silent count works and it likes stadiums to be loud. Jet engine loud.