New York The San Francisco 49ers' 24-point comeback victory over the New York Giants ended with an officiating error.
The NFL said Monday that pass interference should have been called against the 49ers on the final play of the 39-38 thriller.
A botched field-goal attempt by the Giants ended Sunday's game, when New York was called for having an ineligible receiver downfield while holder Matt Allen attempted a pass. However, the league said that the pass interference that was ignored would have resulted in a replay of the down.
"How they missed that, I don't know why," Giants coach Jim Fassel said.
After a videotape review of the 41-yard attempt with six seconds left, NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira determined:
- The Giants' Tam Hopkins, No. 65, lined up as the left guard and was illegally downfield on the pass. All three flags thrown by the officials were for that penalty.
- Rich Seubert, No. 69 and normally a guard, lined up as an eligible receiver on the play. He reported to the officiating crew before the game that he would man that position on field goals.
- Niners defensive end Chike Okeafor interfered with Seubert when he was attempting to catch Allen's pass. No defensive pass interference penalty was called.
"If defensive pass interference had been called," an NFL statement explained, "there would have been offsetting penalties (ineligible receiver against the Giants and pass interference against the 49ers), with the down replayed at the original line of scrimmage, the San Francisco 23-yard line. Although time had expired, a game cannot end with offsetting penalties. Thus, the game would have been extended by one untimed down."
It was a cluttered ending to an exhausting game, but the 49ers didn't apologize Monday for their victory. After all, they're still convinced that Ahmed Plummer intercepted a pass by Kerry Collins two plays before the botched field goal.
When Pereira called 49ers coach Steve Mariucci to explain the league's statement, Mariucci's response was sarcastic: "Bummer."
Actually, Mariucci thought Okeafor would be called for pass interference in the moments after the play occurred -- but when no penalty was called, he joined his team in the celebration.
"That's the way it goes," Mariucci said. "What do you want me to say? Just like coaching and playing, in officiating, there's never going to be a perfect game."
Allen could not have spiked the botched snap, because it was a long snap. Pereira said the only time a player can spike the ball is when he takes the ball directly from the center.
Matt Bryant lined up to try the potential game-winning field goal, and the snap from newly signed Trey Junkin was in the dirt. Allen fumbled the ball, then made the desperation pass downfield to Seubert.
Pereira said the only other option would have been to throw to an eligible receiver.
The 49ers also couldn't understand why Plummer wasn't awarded an interception at the San Francisco 28 with 15 seconds left, though the league's explanation was more clear-cut on the play.
Plummer and Amani Toomer went down in a pile after Collins' pass, and Plummer appeared to have possession of the ball -- to everybody but the officials in the replay booth, that is. Even the side judge threw his yardage-marking beanie, which typically signals a change of possession, but the pass was ruled incomplete.
"From the coaches' copy of the film, yes, it looked like an interception, but that doesn't give you the best view," said Mariucci, who strenuously argued for a video review after the play.
Officials said the play was reviewed immediately after it occurred, and the replay officials didn't see a reason to overturn the ruling on the field.