The NFL has acknowledged that the 49ers’ game-winning drive in the fourth quarter in Detroit on Sunday was aided by the officials spotting the ball at the Lions’ 35-yard line to start the drive, when it should have been spotted at the 40.
The drive began when San Francisco’s Ted Ginn returned a punt to the Lions’ 40. When the 49ers’ offense took the field after a commercial break, the ball was inexplicably at the 35.
“The officiating crew incorrectly spotted the ball at the Detroit 35 instead of the 40 where Ted Ginn went out of bounds,” the league office acknowledged in a statement, via Mike Sando of ESPN.com.
Obviously, the mistake is inexcusable. And the officiating throughout this game was a mess.
The Lions had several complaints about the officiating in the game, which they ultimately lost 25-19. Others included wrongly ruling that Matthew Stafford’s forward progress had been stopped in the end zone on a safety, a bad call on a horse-collar tackle and a questionable chop block flag on Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
The chop block was particularly costly to the Lions, as it wiped out a 15-yard pass down to the 49ers’ 8-yard line. Instead of having first-and-goal at the 8, the Lions had second-and-25 at the 38, and they ended up settling for a 52-yard field goal attempt, which they missed. That miss gave the 49ers great field position for their own 55-yard field goal on the last play of the first half. In a game that would be decided by six points, that exchange was critical.
But questionable calls on penalties happen all the time. What doesn’t happen all the time is the officials getting a spot wrong by five yards.
At least, we hope it doesn’t happen all the time. Considering that none of the officials noticed, the Lions didn’t notice, the TV announcers didn’t notice and no members of the media noticed until after the fact, maybe bad calls like this happen more often than we realize.