NFL says officials missed call, denied Giants 2nd kick attempt

League: 49er committed interference on final play

January 07, 2003|By Neil Best | Neil Best,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It was a play on which almost everything went wrong for the New York Giants. But in a start- ling admission by the NFL yesterday, it turned out that the game officials made the biggest mistake of all.

The league issued a statement saying the officials missed a pass interference infraction that should have been called against the 49ers' Chike Okeafor for pulling down Rich Seubert in the final seconds of the Giants' 39-38 loss in Sunday's wild-card playoff game in San Francisco.

Had the play, on which the Giants botched a potential winning 41-yard field-goal attempt, been called properly, the Giants would have gotten another chance to kick a field goal.

"That's great," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said sarcastically after reading the statement. "It adds another level of sickness."

Coach Jim Fassel was equally unappeased after a phone call from director of officiating Mike Pereira during which Fassel said Pereira apologized.

"Doesn't do us a damn bit of good," Fassel said. "It's water under the bridge. ... How they missed that, I don't know."

Pereira, who was at the game, said Okeafor's infraction should have led to offsetting penalties and one final play with no time left. "[The officials] go home and live another day," Fassel said. "We're done."

Trailing 39-38 with six seconds left, the Giants lined up for a field goal. Trey Junkin's snap was low and outside, and holder Matt Allen sensed Matt Bryant would not be able to get off a kick. So he rolled to his right and flung the ball toward the end zone.

The play - on which the players yell "Fire!" - includes four eligible receivers, two on each end of the line, who go out for passes. They were Seubert and Dan Campbell on the right and Luke Petitgout and Marcellus Rivers on the left.

Because Seubert and Petitgout wear linemen's numbers, they must alert the officials they are lining up as eligible receivers in the field-goal formation; both players did so both before the game and before the play.

The desperation play nearly worked. Seubert briefly was open inside the 5-yard line when Allen flung the ball toward the end zone. But Okeafor dragged him down in an apparent infraction. Penalty flags flew.

Since the game can't end on a defensive penalty, the Giants thought they would have a first down and a short field-goal try.

But according to Pereira, the three flags were thrown because guard Tam Hopkins, who was not one of the eligible receivers, inexplicably left his inside blocking position and stormed downfield with Seubert. The 49ers declined the penalty and the game was over.

Pereira said that if Okeafor also had been penalized, as he should have been, the penalties would have offset, forcing another play, because a game cannot end on offsetting penalties.

The official explanation was somewhat at odds with what referee Ron Winter told a pool reporter after the game. He said there was no interference call because the receiver was not eligible. If it is assumed he meant Seubert, he was incorrect.

Penalties are not subject to replay review, so when the game was over, there was little for Fassel to do.

49ers coach Steve Mariucci was less than sympathetic when told of the mistake. "Oh, bummer," he said sarcastically.

Said Okeafor: "Woulda, shoulda, coulda. I would have done the same thing again. I wasn't going to let him catch it and score."

Since it was third down, Allen could have fallen to the ground and called a timeout, giving the Giants a chance at another field goal, from about 50 yards.

If he had thrown it immediately instead of rolling out, Allen could have flung the ball in the direction of the players on the wing for an incompletion to stop the clock.

Allen did not have the option of spiking it; that would have meant an intentional-grounding call and a 10-second runoff. A spike can be executed only on a hand-to-hand snap from center.

Neil Best is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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