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Not taking safety was smart move for Harbaugh

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

At a time when we thought (hoped) the final moments of Thursday night’s Seahawks-49ers game would include another “what’s your deal?” moment between the two head coaches, the chatter in the wake of the 13-6 outcome has centered on coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to eschew the deuce.

Facing fourth down and 17 from their own four with 56 seconds left in the game, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson dropped into the end zone, eventually throwing the ball to receiver Ben Obamanu, who caught it close to a first down.  A late flag for a chop block occurring in the end zone resulted in a safety for the 49ers.

Which moved the margin to nine points.  Which made certain folks (i.e., those who picked the 49ers minus eight points) very happy.

But then the referee told the crowd both in the stadium and at home that Harbaugh wanted a measurement, because if the Seahawks came up short, the 49ers would take the ball and not the two points.  Which made certain folks (i.e., those who picked the 49ers minus eight points) not so very happy.

And that’s what happened.  Obamanu was short, and so Harbaugh passed on the points and opted for two snaps from victory formation.

In our view, the fiery, emotional, and combative Harbaugh (who has developed a habit of getting mad at the officials even when the calls go his way but not quickly or decisively enough for his liking) made a cool, dispassionate, and rational decision in the heat of the moment.  If Harbaugh had accepted the penalty, the Seahawks would have been able to attempt an onside free kick from their 20, which if successful would have given them the ball at roughly their own 30.  And if a defensive back fell down and if Wilson had connected deep with a wideout who actually was able to catch the ball, the lead could have been quickly sliced to two with the Seahawks trying another onside kick, this time from the 35.

Yeah, a lot of dominoes would have had to fall the right way for Seattle.  But the percentages suggest a greater chance of winning via two knees out of victory formation — even with the slim risk that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would take a page out of the Schiano playbook.  (While Carroll has praised Schiano for his approach to victory formation plays, Carroll called off the dogs on the last two snaps.)

Also, consider this angle.  Even if the Niners would have recovered the onside free kick, Harbaugh would have been exposing his “hands” team, which typically consists of skill-position players, to potential injury.  Then, if the Seahawks had recovered, defensive players would have had to take extra live reps.  And so on, until the game was resolved.

So it was the right decision.  And if the NFL doesn’t like the fact that folks are talking about the issue primarily because of the gambling angle, the league should take that up with the officials who never should have called a chop block against the Seahawks, since neither of the two men who engaged linebacker Aldon Smith hit him below the waist.  If the flag that shouldn’t have been thrown wasn’t thrown, none of this ever would have been an issue.

But it is an issue, and we’ve got no issue with how Harbaugh handled it.

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67 Responses to “Not taking safety was smart move for Harbaugh”
  1. dmiller68 says: Oct 19, 2012 9:26 AM

    It made perfect since to me as well and I’m a Seahawk fan.

  2. kriswd40 says: Oct 19, 2012 9:28 AM

    Was this sort of explanation not obvious? The announcers during the game were perplexed about it.

  3. offthelows says: Oct 19, 2012 9:31 AM

    I agreed with the decision and thought some of the sports writers implying it was related to the line was out of line, joking or not. (Returned) kickoffs and the virtual equivalent, free kicks (that are never touchbacks), are the plays that result in the most frequent injuries, and kneel downs result in the least

  4. nestaaali says: Oct 19, 2012 9:31 AM

    Really don’t see an issue with either way of thinking. Some could easily dismiss that “If, and if, and if” theory with the notion of Seattle scoring twice in 30 seconds. For those defending the move, the hands team argument is pretty solid.

  5. mzamar24 says: Oct 19, 2012 9:37 AM

    Even if they take safety and do the free kick its still a two possession game. Understand potential injury angle but still think they should have taken points on the board as any recovery of free kick still keeps 49ers in lead.

  6. 319hike says: Oct 19, 2012 9:38 AM

    Smart football. Plain and simple…

  7. mactimo says: Oct 19, 2012 9:39 AM

    This was the most obvious easy call ever. Why are people acting like thus was an unconventional smart move. Take the ball n kneel! They call it victory formation for a reason. There is no victory formation on special teams when ur fielding an onside kick.

  8. mazblast says: Oct 19, 2012 9:44 AM

    Somewhere in all of this, there must be someone whom Goodell can fine.

  9. war27 says: Oct 19, 2012 9:46 AM

    Learn something new everyday.

    Today it is that you can onside the kick after a safety.

  10. jbl429 says: Oct 19, 2012 9:46 AM

    I was wondering why the announcers didn’t get it. Harbaugh made 100% the right decision; end the game right then and there and don’t take a risk, even if it’s the most remote possibility.

  11. htowntexan says: Oct 19, 2012 9:53 AM

    this guy is the biggest baby in the league (not playing QB in GB) and should be suspended for conduct detrimental to the game. that said, this was the correct call. it was a no brainer.

  12. oneandonlyramsfaninpa says: Oct 19, 2012 9:54 AM

    gambling should not play a part in how the game plays out. it shouldn’t be considered in rules by the NFL or play in the minds of coaches.

  13. blackandbluedivision says: Oct 19, 2012 9:55 AM

    Awesome explanation. Now where’s the one about why that play eas under review? If it was a first down then the penalty would have resulted in a safety. If not then 49ers ball.

  14. notthatactor says: Oct 19, 2012 9:56 AM

    I disagree that his motivation was to avoid an onside kick. His motivation was to avoid another referee scandal, even if it was in his favor. He knew that the refs made a mistake with the chop block call (it wasn’t a low block and it was by a guard next to an adjacent player–not a penalty). He knew that if they took the safety, everyone would say “The refs blew the game, there will always be an asterisk beside this victory”). That doesn’t matter in a pure W/L perspective, but it matters from a team psychology perspective. And Harbaugh is a master of team psychology. So he had them measure it out and realized he could win with an asterisk or he could win with zero doubt. He chose the zero doubt. It’s a brilliant move and it made me (a Seahawks fan) actually kind of like him.

  15. sod61 says: Oct 19, 2012 9:56 AM

    Wasn’t the line on this game +7?

  16. blackandbluedivision says: Oct 19, 2012 9:56 AM

    Never should have called a chop block? The offensive player pushed Smith by the butt cheek. Last time I checked that was below the waist.

  17. fuddpucker says: Oct 19, 2012 10:00 AM

    Really? If it’s come down to a coach that worries about the remote possibility of the other team scoring twice with almost no time left than we’re just in a pansy league now.

    Take the safety and don’t worry about the onside kick..GOD!!!

  18. tharoostah says: Oct 19, 2012 10:00 AM

    Another reason is time. They would have had to put their special teams out recover the onside kick, the kneel it twice instead of just kneeling twice. This was obvious common sense.

  19. koenig61 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:02 AM

    and if During the victory formation, the 49’s had fumbled, seattle would have only needed a TD , 2 point conversion and the game would be tied, and not have to get 2 onside kicks.

    Whats more likely a fumble during the victory formation, OR for Seattle to get an onside kick, a TD, get another onside kick, and a FG all in the span of 56 seconds?

    I’d have taken the 9 point lead, and trusted my ‘hands’ people to recover the onsides kick.

  20. Great Caesar's Ghost says: Oct 19, 2012 10:06 AM

    Made sense to me and I had the sound turned off. Recovering two onside kicks in a row is unlikely but why even give them a chance? And yes the injury factor. If you’re up you end the game on your terms whenever possible.

  21. azarkhan says: Oct 19, 2012 10:06 AM

    Hey Richard Sherman, u mad bro?

  22. drshakedown74 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:06 AM

    I saw -7.5 at kickoff

    7+ point favorites are doing really, really, really bad this year.

  23. fground says: Oct 19, 2012 10:08 AM

    I had the 49ers to cover. Turned it off and went to bed with 2 minutes left and Seahawks with the ball…figured there was very little chance the 49ers would cover.

    Glad I did and missed all this because I would got all excited only to have the big come down.

  24. chipper41 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:08 AM

    After a safety Seattle would have had to punt the ball to the niners and not kick it. Just asking the question…do punt rules apply or kickoff rules in that situation? Because they are totally different. Kickoff means the ball is a free ball after 10 yards and either team can pick it up and gain possession as long as it went 10 yards. With a punt the ball has to touch a player from the other team before Seattle would be able to cover the ball and take posession. Just curious. If punt rules apply i still think it was a curious choice by harbaugh.

  25. fwippel says: Oct 19, 2012 10:09 AM

    Not sure what the big deal is here, other than the announcers didn’t seem to understand Harbaugh’s decision.

    Any coach concerned about keeping his team healthy would do the same thing. Two kneel-downs are a lot safer than an on-sides free kick, and the potential for the opponent to get the ball back.

  26. tundey says: Oct 19, 2012 10:09 AM

    @koenig61: When was the last fumble from victory formation? In any case, that’s why they assign a WR to line up deep behind the QB. The best play is to end the game with 2 knee downs.

  27. blahblahblah1313 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:14 AM

    Pretty easy to see who had the 49ers -8 when you read the rationalzations for taking the safety. Who fumbles a victory snap?

  28. linebusy says: Oct 19, 2012 10:14 AM

    Not a Harbaugh fan AT ALL, but there really shouldn’t be a controversy. Florio’s right to state it was a good call on Harbaugh’s part. If the only thing standing between a team and the victory formation is not accepting a penalty, I’m not accepting that penalty every time.

  29. blahblahblah1313 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:15 AM

    And don’t bring up the Miracle in the Meadowlands. That was a fumbled exchange between QB/RB. It actually led to the victory formation…

  30. anthonyverna says: Oct 19, 2012 10:16 AM

    Has anyone ever seen an “onside free kick”? I must admit I haven’t. That’s the only reason I’m leaning towards taking the safety would have been better for a larger margin of victory.

  31. edukator4 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:17 AM

    @koenig with all due respect, i’d rather trust the snap from center to qb over depth chart receivers catching a bouncing ball.

  32. gator2006 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:24 AM

    I am dumfounded that this is being second-guessed. Pansy league? What are you talking about?

    And the margin of victory argument is BS. Two points will not change anything.

  33. sowcrates says: Oct 19, 2012 10:27 AM

    No kicking tee, that’s one helluva onside kick to attempt after a safety

  34. targhee159 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:31 AM

    Harbaugh just proved again why he’s coaching and winning games in the NFL and the internet commenters and media people are not. Smart decision by a smart coach.

  35. jimfix says: Oct 19, 2012 10:32 AM

    i didn’t see it, but if there really was no chop block in the end zone and the safety would have covered the spread… one wonders if the refs had some shennanigans up their sleaves…

  36. neofootball says: Oct 19, 2012 10:34 AM

    The 49ers won, so all the bickering seems pointless. If anything should be criticized about last night is that Alex Smith seems to be regressing back to the Qb of 2010. The offense the last two games has been pretty bad.

  37. boswivel says: Oct 19, 2012 10:40 AM

    Whatever, the 49ers could have left the field entirely and the Seahawks wouldn’t be able to put up 9 pts in 30 seconds.

  38. robgilman says: Oct 19, 2012 10:42 AM

    Yeah but what about ppl who have the niners defense in fantasy?!

  39. targhee159 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:51 AM

    One point that seems to be missed by nearly every poster who’s questioning the possibility of an onside kick. After a safety, the kicking team has the option of either kicking off using a tee, or punting. Teams usually opt for the punt due to the ability of a punter with plenty of time to punt it farther than usual with enough hangtime to prevent much if any return.

  40. briang123 says: Oct 19, 2012 10:56 AM

    Of course it was the right move. It was the only move. The point spread is the only reason we are talking about it today. In essence, it was no different than an intentional safety.

  41. motobus says: Oct 19, 2012 11:03 AM

    I think he decline the penalty because the referees were not going to give the 49ers a safety.

    During the call right as the ref is calling the play a safety another referee comes over and stops the head official from finishing his call.

    The penalty in question started in the field of play and ended in the end zone which would not have been a safety.

    And you can see the referees trying to explain the situation to Harbaugh before he decides to just decline the penalty.

    These are just my thoughts on the situation though.

  42. tampabay4life says: Oct 19, 2012 11:06 AM

    I don’t believe you can “onside” a free kick. As some others have said, you are punting the ball, therefore it must touch the receiving team first. If this is indeed true, there was no fear of an onside kick.

  43. theandy59 says: Oct 19, 2012 11:07 AM

    Seriously? There’s actually people who claim to know and understand football that think there’s any other decision to be made other than the one Harbaugh made? It’s pretty simple – there is nothing more important than possession of the football. Nothing.

  44. skinsfanwill says: Oct 19, 2012 11:07 AM

    That was actually the second bad chop block call of the game. Had the replacements made that call, that would be the story of the day. Who is going to hold the real refs accountable when they screw up calls? that should be an ongoing topic.

  45. dwarftosser says: Oct 19, 2012 11:10 AM

    I’m not a big fan of the Thursday night announcers so far. They didn’t even seem to know about the chop block flag until the ref was done explaining it, and they should have recognized how smart it was to decline it. In general they just have come off as very opinionated to me, and I find myself being more annoyed by their comments than informed.

  46. kleppnasty says: Oct 19, 2012 11:21 AM

    To the above question about punting after a safety. Teams can choose to punt or kick, so they could attempt an onside kick.
    And anyone questioning this decision should look at the Tampa Bay game last year. Game was over but the 9ers kept playing rather than running out the clock and Morgan was lost for the year on a freak injury. If a team has the option to end the game without risking injury, you always take that option. If Crabtree or Davis was hurt on the onside kick, or Willis or one of the Smiths was hurt on a defensive play after Seattle recovered, everyone would be bashing the decision to take the unnecessary 2pts.

  47. granadafan says: Oct 19, 2012 11:30 AM

    This is why Harbaugh is paid tthe big bucks to actually coach a team and make decisions real time. This is also why the commentators are sitting in a booth and not on the sidelines. They don’t understand the situations.

  48. eagles512 says: Oct 19, 2012 11:35 AM

    The problem was the Seahawks got the first down but got a poor spot. So bettors would have been happy with a good spot.

  49. blackcatnfl says: Oct 19, 2012 11:37 AM

    Harbaugh doesn’t care about the SF economy, obviously.

  50. rcali says: Oct 19, 2012 11:41 AM

    Seahawks +7.5. Bank it!

  51. apistolpeteproduction says: Oct 19, 2012 11:42 AM

    I don’t like how the referee’s continue to pick and choose what rules to call. Harbaugh is a big proponent of throwing his red flag on the field for plays that cannot be challenged , just so the referee will have to come talk to him. He did it once last night, and waved the red flag at them multiple times on another incident screaming for the ref to come talk to him. While throwing the flag on an incident you cannot challenge is not an automatic penalty anymore, it is a penalty if it was deemed you are doing it on purpose, which Harbaugh has a history of doing. The time he actually threw the flag was later in the game than his first use of the flag to argue with the referees. He should have received a 15 yard personal foul call as it was clear from the tv even he knew he could not challenge it and wanted to yell at the refs instead.

  52. anthonyverna says: Oct 19, 2012 11:52 AM

    @targhee159 Thank you for reminding us of the rule. The football rule book is complex and it is easy to forget such subtleties.

  53. DailySpew says: Oct 19, 2012 11:53 AM

    After that play, no matter what he does his chances of losing are about 0.000000002%. Nobody has an onside free kick in their playbook, and the odds of recovering 2 in a row are about the same as turning the ball over on a kneeldown.

    If any good coaching in this game was done, it was the events that put him in this favorable position, not his “six of one” decision in this case.

  54. rmcrip says: Oct 19, 2012 11:55 AM

    Kleppnasty you are wrong. A free kick after a safety must be done without a tee or a holder. You cannot simply try a routine onside kick!

  55. TheWizard says: Oct 19, 2012 12:04 PM

    I don’t like how the referee’s continue to pick and choose what rules to call

    You’re right. Last week in the Ravens game I saw Flacco throw a ball away as he was getting plowed, in the pocket and no receiver near the ball. No call.

    Patriots game, same circumstances with Brady, intentional grounding.

    If the regular refs are so competent, perhaps they could be consistent.

  56. sweetnlow44 says: Oct 19, 2012 12:12 PM

    There should have been no flag on that play. The spot was questionable too. Wouldn’t have mattered though. We all know after watching the Seahawks offense that they weren’t going to move the ball.

  57. apistolpeteproduction says: Oct 19, 2012 12:17 PM

    Anyone remember when they picked up the flag one ref threw for hitting Russell Wilson while he was sliding? It was a good no call. Fast forward to the drive where Alex Smith throws the pick in the endzone in the 4th quarter. They brought in Colin Kaepernick and he ran to the outside and took a vicious helmet to helmet right in the face while he was going down. Knock his head around hard, and there was no call on it and the announcers were like ” That is ok because he is a running back now” . It is still not ok, it is still against the rules to helmet to helmet anyone, and this was a direct helmet to helmet hit. The two bodies never contacted as Kaepernick was already being tackled by someone else. Another player just came in a nd took a monster head shot on him which should have made it first and 1 on the goal line.

  58. desertviking64 says: Oct 19, 2012 12:26 PM

    It costs me 2 points on my FF team, otherwise it was a smart move.

  59. conormacleod says: Oct 19, 2012 12:34 PM

    I think my head just exploded. FYI: punt, drop kick, or kick without a tee are all options on the free kick after a safety. But, did you all know you can attempt a field goal after a fair catch, even if time has expired? And, the defense may not come within 10 yards of this attempt, nor can they attempt to block the kick until it has actually been kicked. The ball is simply held by a holder while the kicker tries a field goal.

  60. ghostofgilchrist says: Oct 19, 2012 12:53 PM

    That’ll teach ya to eat the juice and take the tease. For entertainment purposes only, of course.

  61. 4evrnyt says: Oct 19, 2012 1:04 PM

    You’re right it shouldn’t have been called a chop block because in reality it was a clip. The offensive line man charged at Aldon and ended up hitting him in the back. I couldn’t figure out why the ref called it a chop block when it was a blatant clip.

  62. dallascowboysdishingthereal says: Oct 19, 2012 1:06 PM

    I thought it was an odd deceision. It was a bad call on the safety to begin with but I just don’t see how Harbaugh figured they would lose if they took the 2 points. Would have taken a miracle and some luck too.

  63. ialwayswantedtobeabanker says: Oct 19, 2012 1:23 PM

    The primary responsibility of an NFL HC is to make the calls that are in the best interests of his team.

    I’m not a particularly big fan of Harbaugh’s personality, but the guy has shown he can coach lights out, and he made the right call in this instance. Harbaugh’s responsibilities are to his team – not gamblers, fantasy football owners, the cyber-rabble, or whomever else.

    In fact, it would be BAD if Harbaugh gave a crap about what is going down in Vegas, Atlantic City and wherever else.

    In this scenario, both avenues presented high probabilities of victory on the ‘Niners’ end, but the path Harbaugh chose was the smart call.

  64. dannythebisforbeast says: Oct 19, 2012 4:22 PM

    I bet he gets fined for that legal hit too

    Goodell changes the rules as he goes. It boggles my mind that there are fines every week for “within the game” penalties. it’s gonna be so people are afraid to hit anyone

  65. discosucs2005 says: Oct 19, 2012 5:01 PM

    I think even if the safety had made it a three or four possession game, you still take the fourth down. Every snap is a potential injury.

  66. jessethegreat says: Oct 19, 2012 5:44 PM

    Don’t they have to punt after a safety? And if they do, unless the other team touches the ball first, you can’t gain possession of your own punt… It’s downed if you touch it. Also, perhaps Baugh took the betting line since he knows alice smith is a roller coaster that could run off the tracks at any time?

  67. unex9885 says: Oct 20, 2012 12:01 PM

    first off… let me state that I am a 49ers fan, now… I personally in my own opinion do not think this was the right move and I’ll explain why.

    taking that safety makes it a 2 possession game, thats just simple math. Now I see what you guys are all saying about an onside kick, they get it, they score, they get another onside kick, yada yada yada… yeah, I get it.

    but imagine that we decline the penalty, take the ball and fumble the snap in the victory formation?? alot more likely right? and now if they score we’re going to overtime, just my opinion… not to mention that one of the tie breakers for the playoffs is points. I dont really have a problem with it either way, Harbaugh is a fantastic coach and I back all decisions he makes, but in my opinion which is only mine… I believe he should’ve taken the safety.

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