SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco 49ers should have been facing fourth down – not third down – following Clay Matthews’ late hit on quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the fracas on the sideline that ensued.
While it may not have made a difference in the Green Bay Packers’ 34-28 loss to the 49ers at Candlestick Park Sunday afternoon, referee Bill Leavy acknowledged his mistake on the second-down play after the game.
The 49ers were facing third-and-6 from the Packers’ 10-yard line when Kaepernick scrambled to the left and was running out of bounds when Matthews hit him blatantly late, drawing a flag. But when 49ers left tackle Joe Staley retaliated by going after Matthews and drew his own penalty, the penalties offset.
Leavy was right in having the two penalties offset, but because both were dead-ball penalties, the play should have counted and the 49ers should have had fourth-and-2 at the Packers’ 6.
“The down should have counted,” Leavy told the pool reporter after the game. “The penalties were both dead ball, and they should have offset at the spot where the runner went out of bounds. And it would have been fourth down.”
Instead, the 49ers got another third-and-6 play and Kaepernick threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
According to the NFL rule book, the rule in question states: “Dead ball fouls by both teams are offset at the succeeding spot, and the down counts, and any disqualified player or players must be removed ..."
When asked if he was aware of the mistake, Packers coach Mike McCarthy replied: “Yes. I mean, I'm aware of it now. Hey, that's part of the game. The ball doesn't always bounce your way.”
McCarthy also factored into that situation when he decided to accept a 49ers illegal formation penalty that occurred before the controversy.
The Packers defense had stopped Frank Gore for no gain on third-and-1 from the Packers’ 5, but instead of declining an illegal formation penalty on guard Adam Snyder, which would have meant a fourth-and-1 play, McCarthy accepted the penalty, bringing up third-and-6 and setting the stage for the confusion that followed.
Asked why he took the penalty in that situation, McCarthy replied angrily, “I'll tell you what, man. You've got the question (about) what it was supposed to be. We went for third-and 6. obviously, the play went into another sequence of plays where there were two fouls called. I don't really think that even factored in the game. So if that's your criticism, then that's fine.”
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