Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Most Bizarre and Unlikely Super Bowl Finish

It turns out that the thrilling finish of Super Bowl 47 could have been much more thrilling than any of us could have ever imagined.  A finish that would have relegated the third quarter power outage to the back pages of the newspaper, if at all.

When the Ravens lined up to punt the ball from their own 20, with four seconds remaining, after taking an intentional safety, quarterback Joe Flacco told tight end Dennis Pitta and center Matt Birk that if the 49ers' Ted Ginn Junior appeared headed for the endzone, they should tackle him.  From the sideline.  Seriously.

Flacco's comments were revealed on the NFL Network's Sound FX program Wednesday night:

Flacco sounded serious.  You can hear him saying he wasn't certain what the rule was, but he was willing to risk tackling Ginn, rather than let him get to the endzone.  In fact, according to Rule 12, Section 3, Article 3--the NFL's Palpably Unfair Act--a player shall not interfere with play by any act which is palpably unfair.  The referee, after consulting his crew, enforces any such distance penalty considered equitable, and irrespective of any other specified code penalty.  The referee may award a touchdown.

Ginn caught the ball at his 20, and returned it to midfield before being tackled by linebacker Josh Bynes.  If he had somehow broken that tackle, he might have broken free along the left sideline.  And if he had, would Flacco have tried to stop him?  We'll never know.  But we do know that he considered the possibility, which is extraordinary.  Amazing.  And he had done it, the Niners likely would have won, in the most incredible finish even imagined, in Super Bowl history.

And as long as we're talking about bizarre finishes that never happened, how about this:  If Sam Cook had skied his punt just 30 yards, instead of booming it 60, Ginn could have called for a fair catch, in which case David Akers could have attempted a 60-yard field goal, without a pass rush, to tie the game, by taking advantage of the rarely used free catch, free kick rule.  It was last converted in the NFL by the Chargers' Ray Wersching, in 1976, from 45 yards out, before he became a 49er.  If you've never heard of this rule, a player can fair catch a punt, after which his team can attempt a field goal from the spot of the catch, with the defensive team having to line up at least 10 yards away.   Most NFL kickers can find the back of the endzone on kickoffs, which means they're going 75 yards.  But for a free kick field goal of 60 yards, the distance would not be the issue as much as the accuracy.

Also, a couple of thoughts after having watched the Super Bowl, in person, at the Superdome, and then having watched replays of the game from the original CBS telecast, and from NFL Films:  Michael Crabtree was bumped from behind before touching the ball, on the 49ers' second down pass from the Ravens five-yard line, on their final drive.  Should have been a pass interference call.  Crabtree was held on the fourth down pass.  Should have been a defensive holding call, although a holding call there might have been reversed by the officials if they determined the ball was not catchable.

The entire Niners defensive line was held--blatantly--on the Ravens' intentional safety, which allowed the punter to take additional seconds off the clock.  I'm not sure what a holding call would have meant at that point.  Would the clock have reverted to 11 seconds for the punt, instead of running down to four?  Or would the Ravens been forced to punt from their 10-yard line, instead of the 20?  Just asking.  Could have meant something.  Not sure.

The point is, rules are rules, and I disagree that "you have to let the players decide the game" in the closing minutes and seconds.  I say, rules are rules, and should be enforced equally, for the duration of the game.  That includes the NFC Championship game in Atlanta.  If Navarro Bowman was bumping Roddy White from behind on Atlanta's fourth down pass, at the Niners' five yard line, before the ball arrived, he should have been flagged as well.

Finally, for the countless number of 49ers fans who wonder why there were no running plays for Frank Gore or Colin Kaepernick on their final set of downs, beginning at the Ravens' seven yard line, and ending at the five, if you watch replays of the second down play, you'll notice that Frank Gore moved ahead of Kaepernick, and to his left, after the snap from center.  It looks as though Kapernick had the option to run left on that play, and in fact, I recall Kaepernick saying after the game that he had the read-option on second down.  But that play was blown dead because Jim Harbaugh called time out with one second left on the play clock, not wanting to risk a five-yard penalty for delay of game.  The snap was, in fact, after the clock hit zero, and if Harbaugh hadn't called time out, the Niners would have been penalized.  If the ball had been snapped from center one second earlier, and if Harbaugh had not called time, what would the play have resulted in?  Ahhhh, we'll never know.

Just like we'll never know how the game would have ended if the Ravens had been called for defensive holding or pass interference.  The Niners would have had a first down at the one, and likely would have scored a go-ahead touchdown, but who's to say that Flacco wouldn't have led his team into field goal range for a game-winning kick in the final seconds?  Yeah, we'll never know.