Sixteen years ago, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh saw a berth in the Super Bowl evaporate after teammate Quentin Coryatt failed to secure a pass from Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell that hit Coryatt right in the stomach. On Sunday, another near miss on a turnover helped keep the former Colts quarterback’s team from getting back to Indianapolis.
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw caught a short pass late in regulation, and he immediately was pushed backward. Before he hit the ground, the ball came out. And the 49ers recovered.
But the officials ruled that Bradshaw’s forward progress had been stopped. Thus, no fumble. And no turnover.
On Monday, Harbaugh expressed his displeasure with the ruling.
“In my opinion, that was a fumble,” Harbaugh said Monday, via NFL.com. “I’m sure the league will defend it and the officials will defend it. But to me, that play was still going on. There was still struggling by Bradshaw. . . . I felt like it was analogous with the tuck rule.”
As much as we like and respect the man who without question was the NFL’s coach of the year, Harbaugh has this one wrong. The rule regarding forward progress is used routinely, the tuck rule sparingly.
In this specific case, Bradshaw’s forward progress was stopped. He was being yanked backward, not falling forward. So it was a good call. (As was the use of the tuck rule a decade ago.)
The only remaining question is whether Harbaugh’s comments crossed the vague and at times shifting line between what will and won’t get a head coach fined for criticizing the officials.