The NFL has admitted it blew a call that felt pretty crucial at the time, a questionable roughing the passer penalty in yesterday's 17-7 Seahawks win that eliminated the 49ers from the playoffs.
Early in the fourth quarter, with Seattle up three, Russell Wilson tossed an incomplete pass on third down. But the Seahawks got a second chance, when referee Ed Hochuli threw a flag on Niners LB Nick Moody for hitting Wilson in the chest after he released the ball. At issue: whether Moody's head was up or down. On NFL Network today, the league's head of officiating Dean Blandino said it was a clean hit:
"It's close, but when you look at it on tape, Moody's head is up, he hits with more the side or the facemask to the body of the quarterback. So in our review, with the ability to look at it in slow motion, it is not a foul," Blandino said.
It was a big call; the Seahawks would score a touchdown on the drive to make it a two-score game. The Niners wouldn't score again, blunting the impact of the call somewhat, but it was still a topic of discussion after the game. "It felt like it was clean to me," Moody shrugged, while Jim Harbaugh said, "I didn't agree with the call."
It might not have been so weird had Hochuli not doubled down after the game, telling a pool reporter that even with the benefit of hindsight, he believed had made the right call.
"I felt that he hit the quarterback in the chest with the hairline, and that's a foul unless he has his face completely up and would hit it face on with the face mask. It's a foul, and that's why I called it," Hochuli said.
"I felt that he hit him with the hairline. The facemask, after you hit him, the facemask comes up. But the first thing that hit him was the hairline of the helmet."
Hochuli said he differentiated between the crown of the helmet and the hairline. The crown is the top of the helmet. The hairline is the top of the forehead.
I'm not ashamed to say I have no clue what constitutes a late or unnecessary hit on the quarterback these days. (Good rule of thumb: any hit.) But it's sort of worrying that the guys in charge of policing an increasingly complex rulebook are asked to split hairs.