NFL admits bad spot gave 49ers five free yards


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

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.

89 responses to “NFL admits bad spot gave 49ers five free yards

  1. 5 yards wouldnt have changed the game…The Niners were on a roll right then. Maybe Schwartz should calm down long enough from his self-initiating heart attacks, he would notice. Shame on the Lions for not noticing, and shame on the officials for not noticing either.

  2. I think this has been the worst officiating year ever. No calls, over calls, inconsistency, you name it. This season has been clear evidence that its time for full time, dedicated officials.

  3. The 49ers were flagged for 15 penalties, totaling 120yds…you don’t think any of those were bad calls? They overcame those and still won the game…what’s the Lions’ excuse?

  4. I’d just like to point out that on the incorrectly spotted ball that if the Lions coaching staff was paying attention they could have challenged . . . and if the safety wasn’t a sack it was at least intentional grounding and still should have been a safety one way or the other. The chop block was a bad call . . . boo hoo.

  5. The safety was going to get called either way. It was either in-the-grasp or intentional grounding in the end zone.

  6. @sonoco the Lions coaches have much to worry about on the sidelines such as play calls, personnel, and substitutions. You would expect the officials to be competent enough to place the ball in the right spot. The coaches shouldn’t have to worry about miscues like this…But in the end, it most likely would not have changed much.

  7. with 9billion in revenues I am sure the NFL can spare a few dollars to have full time officails with more training to make sure the get it right 99.9999999999999% of the time as of right now I would say its only about 90% of the time.

  8. and the last touchdown scored by Detroit was a kiss and make up call to even up what happened to the lions in Chicago a year ago.

  9. Are they going to have to mark the 10-yard marks (10, 20, 30, 40, 50) with red/blue/etc. and the 5-yard marks (5, 15, 25, 35, 45) with white chalk? This seems like a solution to something that shouldn’t need one.

  10. Not to mention the bad call on the Calvin Johnson rule TD from Burleson. Applying the letter of the law and comparing it to the actual Calvin Johnson TD last year the two are one in the same. That TD should never have happened, even if it is obvious it is a catch.

  11. I don’t understand how nobody could see a 5 yard mistake? Not the refs, not the Lion’s coaching staff, nor the Lions players. Not even the TV commentators? My goodness, what were people doing?

  12. That was the most ridiculously officiated NFL game I have ever seen.

    Dear NFL – We don’t tune in to watch your sorry officiating crews huddle to discuss another bad call. We tune in to watch football. Make some rule changes that keep the game moving. And hire full time refs. You can afford it.

  13. isn’t the first time this year officiating has ruined the outcome of a great hard fought game. It’s funny how players, coaches, and even announcers can get fined and suspended for their actions and words, but the refs get away with a memo recognizing their wrongs and all is forgotten. Maybe it’s time for the referees to start getting fined and suspended because I’m sick and tired of watching great games have asterisks next to them with horrible officiating…

  14. Schwartz couldnt challenge the spot of the ball, he was still making fun of Harbaugh for challenging the TD call…

    And then he whines about “protocol” of the post game hand shake. Give me a break, what about the protocol of how you act on the sidelines during the game you “doosh”. Not a fan of either team, but this is too much, lol.

    I thought Detroit had an awesome team until I saw Cutler torch that secondary. So in my eyes they took a hit on that night, but still I hoped they would continue to grow. But after watching Schwartz during the game, and post game, I cant root for Detroit. I wanted them to be good for the fans that have long suffered, but that guy is just completely unlikeable

  15. “dstep24 says:
    Oct 19, 2011 12:24 PM
    Hilarious how many ‘Niner fans are insecure about their win…just read the comments…”

    @dstep24, I see your “insecure” Niner fan comments and raise you all the Lions fans whining about the officiating and Jim Hairball. Hilarious…just read the comments. It goes both ways my friend.

  16. The refs called a terrible game all around. As a Niner fan I was yelling at the TV and I’m sure Lions fans were doing the same. It is still nice to see these two teams playing good football.

  17. Wow ,Glad to see Detroit is still looking in the rear mirror. It’s too bad that this one isn’t put to bed like the Lions playoff hopes.

  18. Any comment on Brandon Marshall getting absolutely mauled by Revis on his INT return? Of course not, handful or jersey and everything. But we won’t need calls when Luck is beating the brains out of everyone in the AFC.

    Miami Dolphinsss, Miami Dolphinssss, Miami Dolphins Number One!

  19. savocabol1 says: Oct 19, 2011 12:17 PM

    Not to mention the bad call on the Calvin Johnson rule TD from Burleson. Applying the letter of the law and comparing it to the actual Calvin Johnson TD last year the two are one in the same. That TD should never have happened, even if it is obvious it is a catch.
    No doubt, i wonder if the Lions complained about that bad call, i am guessing they didnt, which labels them as hypocrites in my book.

  20. Now teams are going to have to hire a person to keep an eye on where the ball is spotted so the coach can challenge it when the officials screw it up. There’s no excuse for this incompetence.

  21. With that many commercial breaks, are people really surprised that everybody looses the flow of the game ?

    And stop with the safety, it was either sack or intentional grounding both resulting in a 2 points for the niners.

  22. bad calls all over the place. the 49ers had 3 false starts called against them that werent false starts. 2 were a player in motion(right to left)who didnt move forward, the DL jumped and it was called a false start. all the player did was shuffle his feet side to side and he was already in the TE/H back position. another 1 was a flinch called on Anthony Davis which was actually just a good step backwards but was ruled a false start. ive got the game saved and ive watched each of these plays 5 times each. bogus calls. there were obviously more, on both teams.

  23. So when is Roger Goodell gonna start fining the officials? He fines the players for playing good football, so it’s only fair that he fines the officials for bad calls.

  24. Don’t forget the Gore 60+ yard run. In addition to the bad horse collar call the officials missed three different penalties on the play

    Hands to the face
    Holding – Joe Staley
    Block in the Back – Gin

  25. dstep24 says:
    Oct 19, 2011 12:24 PM
    Hilarious how many ‘Niner fans are insecure about their win…just read the comments…

    Yeah I agree, having to explain themselves and the best they can come up with is a “Whatever”
    Bad spot no difference in the game? Walker would have been down at the 3 and the ball would go over on downs with the Lions ahead 19-15. No change indeed….

  26. I dislike Mike Carey’s crew very much. I was watching the Bills game and turned to this game and immediately saw 2 penalties and thought to myself “must be a Mike Carey game”. Sure enough it was. I immediately called my brother and ranted how a potentially great game was going to be ruined by Mike Carey’s crew. I swear they call more penalties then any other crew out there. If he is doing your game you might as well expect a lot of penalties. I was even more disappointed when the Patriots game was supposed to come on and I missed the whole 1st quarter because this game ran that late. The majority of the late games were in the 2nd quarter by the time this one ended. And for the little period of time that I did watch this game, there were plenty of bad calls. His crew needs to be kicked out. The things that ruin NFL football are commercials and constant penalties. Carey’s crew is the worst.

  27. Funny how everyone is saying the Lions fans keep bringing up this issue when it is the MEDIA not the fans…

    Lions fans are over it and ready for the next game, and hope to play them again in the playoffs.

  28. @dstep24: It is funny to me how Lions fans tone have changed since the lost. A week before the game the media and you all were blabbing like you were going to win 30-10 or something. No one except Terry Bradshaw gave the Niners a fighting chance. If you want to say that 5 yards cost you the game, go ahead, a loss is a loss. Both teams were sloppy and it was a tough game, but come back down to Earth now. And I keep reading Lions fans saying we will see you in the playoffs, but there is one thing. The Lions will not be at home this time, if and when that time comes, the Lions will lose again.

  29. lol @ the lions fans crying. Big deal it’s 5 yards. I am not a fan of either team, but I saw so many bull crap calls on the 49ers. The refs were calling false starts for LEGAL motion shifts on the 49ers. Tons of offsides by the Lions were never called as well. In my opinion the 49ers were getting screwed all game long by Mike Carrey. So, “Lions fans”(if that’s what you are)…suck it up and move on.

  30. The officials were awful in this game; way too prominent. They were calling everything real and imagined, especially the ticky-tack fouls they were calling on the Niners’ o-line. That shift by Walker was legal and the Lions encroached…false start though??

    I thought Ginn went out at the 40 and after the commercial break they were at the 35, but I thought I was just imagining things. What a dumb mistake by a horrible crew that I hope we never see again; Carey and his crew are the worst.

  31. The reason the lions said they missed it is because they were arguing with the refs about a missed block in the back/hold by Reggie Smith on Maurice Stovall. It may have been a penalty regardless someone on the coaching staff should have noticed.

  32. RE: wiley16350 says: Oct 19, 2011 12:45 PM

    I agree 100%.

    I watched Mike Carey’s crew call two horse-collars in a preseason game this year, and neither one was legit (the second was probably a pay back call). I believe his crew calls nearly twice as many penalties as any other crew.

    For those suggesting full-time paid refs, that would make it like baseball where it’s almost impossible to get rid of a bad umpire because of the union. Keep things the way they are, and be more proactive in culling out the bad ones.

  33. first off i want to say im a niners fan. Secondly I want to give nothing but respect to the detroit lions. This was a great game that was only screwed up by the refs. There were bad calls all game on both sides. But anyways…it was a hard fought battle and a great job defensively by both teams. Both of our teams are a problem…instead of fighting amongst eachother lets just gang up on the packers and someone beat them in the Playoffs. Because after all.. they are the champs and the ones to gun for.

  34. I am positive, most of us can go back to any game we have ever seen, and find a play where the ball was spotted wrong. Non story.

  35. “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.”

    So you’re saying the Niners did notice then?

  36. Niners fan: Five yards wouldn’t have mattered.

    Lions fan: Five yards would have changed the game.

    Nothing we can do about it now except wonder. Only, we shouldn’t have to wonder, because it shouldn’t have ever happened. Consider the ball dropped, NFL refs. And when you pick it back up, make sure it’s where you dropped it, not five yards away.

  37. Officiating is awful in the NFL It has turned into the NBA. Certain players dont get called (Revis) for anything while other players get called for looking at somebody wrong during coverage.Linesman can not keep up with play.I would pay to sit in these meetings where refs get graded. I bet they sit around eating ,drinking and laughing about how bad they are.

  38. Calm down ‘Niner nation…you don’t have to be so defensive…

    It’s not your fault that the refs handed your team a victory.

    Just kinda sucks to know your team didn’t earn it. I completely understand.

  39. Officiating in the NFL gets worse each year. Add to that new rules each year to ‘protect’ players and you end up with the cluster we see right now. I don’t remember seeing as many official conferences on the field as we do today. As great as the NFL is, their officiating is horrible and MUST be addressed. Game to game, quarter to quarter the rules and interpretations seem to change.

  40. It is easy to reason why the TV viewers lose the flow of the game or the spotting of the ball if you time the actual amount of time the camera is focused on the field. We the viewers are bombarded with useless shots of fans in the stands, sulking players on the sidelines, coaches covering their mouth while calling in the play. We do not get to see the change of players or most of the other things that take place prior to their lining up.

  41. Or maybe the Lions could actually have a two minute offense…that was pathetic. Lions coaching is way overrated. I was thoroughly unimpressed.

  42. 808munsta says:
    So when is Roger Goodell gonna start fining the officials? He fines the players for playing good football, so it’s only fair that he fines the officials for bad calls.


    YEAR !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  43. regarding the 5 yards… I believe that TD on 4th and goal was only scored by inches. So your talking about completely different play calling. I’m not saying we win the game but it does change a lot. As it is Alex Smith didn’t make the correct read on that last play when he threw the slant. He read man coverage and the lions were in zone. So to say alex smith is clutch enough to lead them down in different circumstances and still win would be a stretch. The bottom line is we deserve to lose that one after playing that bad. I do think we will see you 49ers again though.

  44. Here is the bottom line for me as a Lions fan: You had a chance, in front of a raucous home crowd, to move to 6-0 on the season, and you lost to, of all people, Alex Smith. There are no excuses. Lions got served a slice of humble pie. Not always a bad thing but let’s see them come back and beat the Falcons.

  45. Is anyone willing to consider the possibility that some NFL officials are on the take?

    Corruption literally happens everywhere else in society and no one is shocked by it anymore. Yet NFL fans are unwilling to entertain at least the possibility that corruption has found its way into pro football, despite the hundreds of millions gambled on the games.

    I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but why is it NEVER discussed as a possibility?

  46. Jim Schawrtz didn’t notice the 5 yard deferential because he was busy replaying Jahvid best college running highlights in his head….and that’s why he always seems excited on the sidelines!!

  47. These officials should be suspended or sent back to officiate high-school football games. There is no excuse for an official in the National Football League to error by 5 yards on an out of bounds play.

  48. Is it just me or are lions fans all crybabies its one game get over it the niners got bad calls in the game too we had quite a few false starts that could have been encroachment the five yards wouldnt of helped you anyways quit your bitching its a 16 game season and you have 2 losses to the packers on schedule anyways

  49. this guy and his crew are continually given high profile games.. they have shown that they are not up to the challenge, just not good enough.. one must question why they are put in this position. Another very poor crew that gets lots of air time is Ron Winter. they are much too old, cant keep up with the game.. So they throw more flags … game comes to a virtual stop.

  50. Why all the hate, Niners fans? You played a good game and won….we lost, fair and square. MDS is the one who brought up the 5 yard thing…..we’re both 5-1 now….let’s see how the season goes, ok?

  51. Full time refs aren’t the answer unless you want another union in the way of NFL operations. It will make them more likely to protect each other’s bad calls. Recent NBA refs have bet on games they ref and show an obvious bias to certain players. MLB umps have strike zone according to each interpretation of the rule book and are not so likely to overturn each other and circle the wagons on bad calls rather than fix them. There is nothing about full time officials that makes me believe they will be more consistant

  52. “I don’t understand how nobody could see a 5 yard mistake? Not the refs, not the Lion’s coaching staff, nor the Lions players. Not even the TV commentators? My goodness, what were people doing”

    Yeah, that’s 15 feet! How do you screw that up??

  53. The chop block call was not “questionable”, as you suggest, it was clearly a text book chop block when you watch all angles of the replay. While Pettigrew could not have been expected to have known, as he made the block, one of his teammates clearly gave an otherwise legal push (block) to the defender which absolutely constitutes “engaged” as Peddigrew’s low block took place.

    NFL head of officials will use this play as text book example when they have their officiating seminars. Why don’t you just put up the play–with all replays–rather than continue to spin this play as controversial?

  54. I wish to add that there was a long discussion of the huddled game officials prior to confirming the Peddigrew chop block. Obviously, there was an official that saw the defender was “engaged” when Peddigrew blocked low.

  55. dstep24, you are probably the most annoying and insecure person on this board. You have to post three times for the same thing.

    Ok, we got it. The niners got a bonus win. You still lost. Besides, shouldn’t you worry about getting spanked by the Packers (twice), Falcons, and the Saints. You may not make the playoffs. Your stupid RB is out after talking junk and your overrated DL (Suh) made a grand total of 2 tackles and allowed big runs after talking trash.

  56. Is a spot on a punt or kick off challengeable? Technically it’s a result of a first down, but I think the spot can only be challenged for the conversion of a first down. What’s could the lions do if they hadgot seen it but the refs did not

  57. Terrible officiating and totally inexcusable by the refs, and the league should penalize the officials in some way.

    That being said, the Lions are getting a reputation as whiners because of all the complaining. Whether it is about the post-game hand shake or the officiating, they have been doing a lot of complaining in the last week or so, perhaps even longer.

  58. There was 2 minutes left after the Niners scored.

    The lions took possession 2 times. Both times they failed to convert even a first down. Additionally Stafford and Co seemed to be dragging feet thru molasses during the 2 m drill, allowing a practically a full 20+ seconds to elapse before hiking the ball.

    The 5 yards helped. No question. But don’t let that derail the fact that the Lions not only had 2 chances, but the fact that in the last 2 series, there was absolutely no sense of urgency to win by the Lions

  59. @hendeeze, good points. Absolutely true.
    Saw the game and the lions seemed to be dragging their feet. When they still have 3 time outs I was like uh oh.

  60. does anyone have a link to the actual video footage of this return? thanks
    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! I can’t find it anywhere. I’m a big Teddy Ginn fan…he’s electric.
    And, this was one of the biggest, of not biggest plays of the game — the big return that set up the short field for the game-winning 9ers TD….YET, the amateurs at ESPiN and the NFL Network never showed this important punt return in the highlights.

  61. First of all the Lion fans are milking this 5 yard things and using it as a scape goat to cover up their first loss of the season. It’s five lousy yards. Second of all Frank Gore would have ran the ball right up the middle and gotten those five yards like he was doing all game if it hadn’t been given to us in the first place. And third of all… Just tackle Ginn and there is no discussion!!! He dipped dodged and dove past half your special teams!

  62. Ok a couple of quick points
    #1 – I don’t care what team you’re routing for, if you found this out afterwards and you remember the play that won the game was by mere inches, you’d be ticked. No excuse at all and someone’s head should role on the officiating crew.
    #2 As much as this is a huge error on the officials, it is monumental error on the part of the Lions. There should be numerous people making sure this never happens, especially at the end of the game – can anyone say protocol?
    #3 Both the handshake and now this fiasco has diverted attention to the most glaring issue if you are a Lions fan. The horrible use of time at the end of the game. If the Lions want to be leggit contenders, then they have to clean that up. Watching Stafford slowly walk to the line after a completed pass and tons of time run down was “frightening”.
    The Lions are a very good team and I don’t think anyone wants to face them, even and especially now. Don’t “whine” over this game, but use it to be even better. And clean your own house first.

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