The 49ers beat the Seahawks on Thursday night, nailing down the NFC West championship. At 21-13, it was closer than it should have been.
The dagger should have come with more than 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter. A pass from Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith was intercepted by 49ers defensive back Deommodore Lenoir. He returned it for a touchdown. The extra point would have made the score 28-3.
But there was a flag on the field. Referee Alex Kemp called roughing the passer, on 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa. It was as weak of a call as the one from Sunday night on Dolphins defensive end Jaelen Phillips. And the league has since admitted that the flag on Phillips was erroneous.
Amazon’s Kirk Herbstreit defended the call against Bosa. Rules analyst Terry McAulay didn’t chime in.
Regardless, and with all due respect to Herbstreit, it wasn’t roughing the passer.
But it was, because it was called. And, again, the problem comes from the rulebook, which mandates the throwing of a flag “when in doubt” as to whether roughing occurred.
So the points came off the board. The Seahawks kept the ball, and they ultimately turned what should have been a four-score game at that point into a one-score finish.
It’s another reason why these plays must be subject to replay review. Or, ideally, why the “when in doubt” language should be expunged from the rulebook.
The end result was a game that remained closer than it should have been, and that became closer as the second half played on. While the Seahawks could have roared back in any event, there’s a huge difference psychologically between 28-3 and 21-3.
The good news is that it ultimately didn’t affect the game. The better news (for the league) is that the game remained interesting far longer than it should have been.
Still, the rule needs to be addressed — before it mars the outcome of a playoff game or, even worse, a Super Bowl.
The league has acknowledged the fact that, in the offseason, potential changes will be discussed. Here’s hoping that’s just not idle talk aimed at getting past a short-term controversy while still clinging to a longer-term obsession with sacrificing the integrity of the game for ensuring that as many quarterbacks as possible remain healthy.