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.