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Bad no-call sours Super Bowl loss for 49ers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  February 4, 2013 12:32 PM

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020413crabtree607.jpg

San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree coudln't reach a pass because he was impeded by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, left, while safety Ed Reed shadowed in coverage. (Jeff Haynes / REUTERS)

I never would have thought we would be talking about a non-call in the Super Bowl again. At least not so soon.

But in a season that began with replacement referees and ended on a 4th and 5 hold -- and yes, it was a hold -- one has to seriously be concerned with the state of officiating.

The San Francisco 49ers fan base was sent into a tailspin after an infraction on Michael Crabtree's possible game-winning touchdown went uncalled. It was one in a series of bad no-calls in Super Bowl XLVII.

There's this whole thing about the genie in the bottle when it comes to losses after the fact, but there is also a cold, hard truth here: The 49ers didn't deserve to win. The Baltimore Ravens, finishing on top 34-31, took the game from San Francisco in the first quarter and were on the verge of giving the ballgame up before getting a little help. But make no mistake about it, the Ravens played for 60 minutes, something the 49ers failed to do. And when the game was on the line, and the comeback was in its full throes, the Ravens got one in a series of bad calls to go their way. It doesn't make the call right, but it was equally distributed between the two teams.

Just plays earlier, 49ers left guard Mike Iupati had gotten away with a holding call. 'Tis the way of the world, it seems.

In Super Bowl XLIII (2008 season), the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 with a little help from the officials, too. Here's what I wrote up about the calls in that game:

Exhibit A – there was a clear and obvious block in the back on James Harrison’s length-of-the-field touchdown return. There’s seven points off the board.

Exhibit B – an awful roughing the passer call that gave the Steelers a first down and eventually led to a field goal. That would’ve been a bad call in a regular season game, but was truly terrible in the Super Bowl.

Exhibit C – same drive, roughing the field goal holder??? I’m not quite sure when that became a penalty. It sounds vaguely familiar, but that can’t be in keeping with the spirit of the rule, can it? He hardly roughed him up.

Exhibit D – the first Kurt Warner fumble that was overturned after a review. They got the call right, but it was so obvious that the Cardinals shouldn’t have had to waste a challenge on it.

Every one of those bother me, but I’m able to look past them. However, to not review a questionable fumble call, with seconds remaining in the game -- the game being the freaking Super Bowl -- is inexcusable. Initially I thought it was a fumble, and I understood the call. But the replay looked different. I thought the ball may have still been in his hand and that there was a real good chance that the call could be overturned. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised when they didn’t bother to look at it.

In Super Bowl XLVII, we'll be talking about Jimmy Smith's hold/non-hold on that 4th-and-goal, Chris Culliver's pass interference, the no-call pass interference on Corey Graham on 2d-and-goal with the ballgame on the line, and the no-call offensive pass interference on Torrey Smith that could have resulted in a Culliver interception.

That's a lot of plays to consider that are questionable. It's magnified when more than 100 million people are watching. And outside of Baltimore, fans of the game continue to have their faith shaken that the league will not do the right thing when it comes to perceived injustices. The last thing the NFL wants to discuss is its poor officiating.

But when I awoke this morning, after having digested the game and re-watched the pivotal highlights (again and again), I find myself equally disgusted with the 49ers' lack of urgency in the first half. On 3d and 15, their first offensive series, they elect to run a draw with Frank Gore for 3 yards. That was conservative play-calling at its worst. In the second quarter, facing a 3d-and-10 at their own 6-yard line, the 49ers went back to Gore for a 6-yard run. Again, conservative play-calling at its worst. No need to remind the Red and Gold that this is the Super Bowl. Mr. Hindsight is a great teacher.

Add in two pivotal turnovers by rookie running back LaMichael James and second-year QB Colin Kaepernick (his 10th start) and then throw in a special teams touchdown by the Ravens' Jacoby Jones, a 108-yard kickoff return, and you have the recipe for a super loss already.

But even then, after coming back from a 28-6 deficit, the 49ers found themselves with a possible game-winning drive on their hands, 1st-and-goal at the Ravens' 7-yard line. They proceed to give James the ball (he should've been benched), and throw three straight passes to Crabtree at the right pylons that made no sense whatsoever.

No read option. No quarterback scramble. No targets for Vernon Davis. No touches for Gore. No sense of balance in play-calling.

It was atrocious coaching, punctuated by a gut-wrenching fourth down play that had slim hope for success. There was no pickup on the blitz, no 49ers receiver working the middle of the field, and no separation for the target.

The non-call didn't give the Ravens the victory. It was just the final dagger. It sours the loss, sure, but it was the Ravens' game to lose. No reason to be mad because they got help on one play. The 49ers gave Baltimore plenty of help on their own.

@zuriberry

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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