Fittingly, the final game of the 2019 NFL regular season came down to instant replay and a matter of inches on a goal-line stand by San Francisco that included a costly delay-of-game penalty on Seattle that marred Marshawn Lynch’s return, and featured no whistle on what the Seahawks argued was defensive pass interference against the 49ers.
Both teams were celebrating victory and the NFC West title after Seattle’s 10th snap from inside the 12-yard line in the final minute of the final regular-season game of the league’s 100th season.
The Seahawks thought tight end Jacob Hollister inched the football across the goal line on his catch of Russell Wilson’s fourth-and-goal pass, giving them a 27-26 lead.
The 49ers were sure rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw had stopped Hollister just shy of the end zone just as they had stopped John Ursua inches short on a fourth-down catch, his first of the season, that yielded a first down moments earlier.
Fans and players in Green Bay and New Orleans held their collective breath, too, because their playoff positioning depended on who was right.
Finally, referee Tony Corrente turned on his microphone and announced the receiver was down before the ball reached the goal line.
Before 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could sneak the ball 2 yards to seal the win, NBC announcer Chris Collinsworth was exclaiming, “You’ve got to go back to the delay-of-game penalty, one of the biggest mistakes of the year, of the entire season,” to which his partner, Al Michaels, wholeheartedly agreed.
After hitting Ursua for 11 yards to the 1, Wilson turned and urged left tackle George Fant, who was down on the ground and apparently injured after the play, to get up and hustle to the line of scrimmage, which he did, getting set just in time for Wilson to spike the ball.
In trotted Lynch, who had soared over the top for a 1-yard TD early in the fourth quarter. Surely, he was about to do the same. The crowd roared.
But in the confusion that followed, the Seahawks were still huddling up when the yellow flag came out and Seattle was whistled for delay of game on second down.
That backed up the Seahawks to the 6 and sent Lynch back to the sideline.
Wilson, who burned his last timeout before his fourth-down pass to Ursua, then misfired on two passes, including one on third down for Hollister on which Seattle begged unsuccessfully for pass interference against linebacker Fred Warner.
NBC Sports football rules analyst and former NFL referee Terry McAulay came on and said, “He’s clearly got him grabbed, significantly hindering the receiver. This should be a booth review. I’m surprised they have not stopped the game.”
NFL senior VP of officiating Al Riveron later said the play was looked at in New York, but based on the replay there wasn’t enough evidence to stop the game for a further look.
Tony Dungy soon tweeted his displeasure: “Still shaking my head on non-Pass Interference call in the last minute of the 49ers-Seahawks game. NFL Office put us through a season of inconsistent reversals but this is what the rule was supposed to fix — missed call that impacted playoff spots of 4 teams. Why have review??”
After San Francisco’s 26-21 win, Richard Sherman took issue with Dungy’s suggestion that it was a bad non-call, replying sarcastically on Twitter, “So now you want to allow the WR in initiate contact … push off from the defender and get the P.I. yeah, that sounds about right.”
When the dust and the dust-ups settled, the 49ers were the NFC’s top seed for the first time since 1997; the Packers settled for the second seed, the Saints missed out on a first-round bye and will host the Vikings next weekend, two years after the “Minnesota Miracle” knocked them from the playoffs; and the Seahawks, instead of earning a home playoff game, have to travel to Philadelphia next weekend.
What a centennial celebration of a season.
Can’t wait to see what unfolds in the playoffs.
With contributions from AP Sports Writer Tim Booth.
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