National Football League
Why the refs couldn't review a clear fumble in 49ers-Seahawks game
National Football League

Why the refs couldn't review a clear fumble in 49ers-Seahawks game

Updated Mar. 5, 2020 12:24 a.m. ET

SEATTLE — Bring in ‘da noise. Bring in ‘da spunk. Bring me some ear plugs.

The Seahawks and their “12th man” overcame a slow start, then rallied to take the lead for the first time with 13:44 left in the game. On top of that, they had to survive a late San Francisco drive stopped by a Malcolm Smith interception off a Richard Sherman deflection for a 23-17 victory in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night. 

And if you think the fans were loud during the game, you should have heard the party on the field that took place afterward during the trophy presentation. Not a soul left as the song “New York, New York” was playing over the loudspeakers. The Seahawks are now headed to Super Bowl XLVIII to take on the Denver Broncos.

The game lived up to all the hype and more. The officials lived up to their commitment to keep control of the game, which many thought would get out of control. So much that when the teams took the field for warm-ups, all of the officials lined up along the 50-yard line to make sure that there were no altercations before kickoff.


While there were plenty of good things done by referee Gene Steratore and his crew, there were a couple of incorrect calls, which is normal for every game. In truth, only one of them really had an impact. And that was a running-into-the-kicker penalty late in the third quarter.

Here was the situation: San Francisco had the ball, fourth-and-10 at its own 20-yard line with just under three minutes left in the third quarter. The 49ers had the lead 17-13. Andy Lee punted the ball 42 yards, but was run into by Seattle’s Chris Maragos. It was called as running into the kicker, a 5-yard penalty. In my opinion, it should have been a roughing-the-kicker penalty, which would have been a 15-yarder and given San Francisco a first down.

Instead, the Seahawks kept the punt and eventually scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

My grade for the officials: B+

This was very likely the hardest game of the year to work, but they were up to the task. Meanwhile, they had another big miss in the fourth quarter with 8:45 left in the game.

Here was the situation: Seattle had the ball, third-and-10 at the San Francisco 10-yard line. Seattle led 20-17. Russell Wilson completed a 9-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse, who was hit by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who stripped the ball away before Kearse hit the ground. Bowman was injured on the play.

But the officials ruled a fumble, and a recovery by Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line. However, it was clear that on replay Bowman held onto the ball through the process of going to the ground and had it stripped from him after the play was over. Since the officials ruled on the field that Lynch recovered the fumble, nothing could be done to give the ball back to San Francisco because that aspect of the play is not reviewable.

Should it be reviewable? Yes.

Is it reviewable today? No.

Will it be a reviewable one day? More than likely, yes.

Luckily for the officials, Seattle went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and Wilson fumbled the ball attempting to hand it off to Lynch. So, the 49ers got what they deserved in the first place, the ball.

There were 18 fouls (15 accepted) called in the game. There were two personal fouls called on the 49ers, and I thought they were both good calls. One was a forearm to the head of a defenseless receiver and the other was unnecessary shove, which propeled a player into the team area and led to him running into a chain crew member.

So now it’s on to the Super Bowl with a crew that will be led by referee Terry McAulay.

As the song “New York, New York” is still playing in my head from the Seahawks' celebration, it’s going to be nice to go back to a great place I called home for 12 years.

Can’t wait for both.




PENALTY BREAKDOWN: San Francisco 7-65, Seattle 8-66

REPLAY REVIEWS: 1 review (reversed)


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