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NFL says officials blew call

League says referees misinterpreted rules and the Giants should have been given another chance to beat the 49ers.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 7, 2003


TAMPA -- The botched field-goal attempt by the Giants in the dying seconds of Sunday's playoff game in San Francisco is gaining folklore status, thanks in part to the NFL saying that the officiating crew made a mistake.

With six seconds left and the 49ers hanging on to a 39-38 lead in the NFC wild-card game, the Giants had a chance to win by converting a 41-yard field goal. But long snapper Trey Junkin delivered the ball too low to holder Matt Allen, who rushed out of the pocket and heaved a desperation pass downfield that fell incomplete.

The Giants were penalized for having an ineligible player downfield. New York wanted a defensive pass interference call but no call was made and the game was over.

The win advanced the 49ers to an NFC divisional playoff game Sunday against the Bucs.

After the NFL reviewed tape of the game, director of officiating Mike Pereira said the officials were inaccurate in their application of the rules. In a statement, the league said: "Tam Hopkins (No. 65) of the Giants lined up as the left guard and was illegally downfield on the pass attempt. The three flags thrown on this play were for this penalty. ... Guard Rich Seubert (No. 69) was an eligible receiver on Giants field-goal attempts. This was reported to the officiating crew prior to the game, as is routinely done prior to every game.

"49ers defensive end Chike Okeafor interfered with Seubert downfield when he was attempting to catch Giants holder Matt Allen's pass. This defensive pass interference penalty against the 49ers was not called."

The failure to make the interference call, the league said, had a profound effect on the outcome since time ran out.

"If defensive pass interference had been called, there would have been offsetting penalties, 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."

"How they missed that, I do not know," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "That is very disappointing."

San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, whose team benefited from the gaffe, didn't appear to be harboring any guilty feelings.

"Bummer," Mariucci said. "That's the way it goes. What do you want me to say? Just like coaching and playing, in officiating, there's never going to be a perfect game."

Okeafor said he interfered with Seubert and he expected the referees to throw a flag.

"Woulda, shoulda, coulda. I'd have done the same thing again," Okeafor said. "I wasn't going to let him catch it, score and be over then. I was at least going to make them use another play, give us another chance."

It was a hot topic of conversation at One Buc Place on Monday.

"They've got to be totally devastated, especially after having such a big lead," said left tackle Lomas Brown, who played the past two seasons with the Giants. "And especially considering all the pressure they've been under recently. The way they lost, I know they had to be devastated."

But not everyone was sympathetic. Quarterback Brad Johnson remembered being the holder on a similar botched field-goal attempt in a playoff game at Raymond James Stadium when he was with the Redskins.

"I don't feel for anybody," Johnson said. "They don't feel for me, I wouldn't feel for them. That's just part of the deal. I've been in that situation before, three years ago I was in Washington and we had the game-winning chance and things like that happen."

The NFL also said reports that Allen could have spiked the ball to give the Giants another play were inaccurate. Had Allen spiked the ball, he would have been penalized for intentional grounding, which would have resulted in a loss of down and 10 seconds being run off the clock to end the game.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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