No holds barred: The price of a non-call

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
8:15
PM ET
A quick layover in Denver allowed me to rejoin the Super Bowl aftermath conversation via Twitter.

Officiating remained prominent on San Francisco 49ers fans' minds. That's fine by me. Even if you think the Baltimore Ravens played better and deserved to win Super Bowl XLVII -- that is my view, even though expressing it caused one guy to click Twitter's unfollow button in frustration -- there is no rule against discussing how officiating affected the game.

We'll see for years to come clips of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pleading for a holding call against Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith on the 49ers' last-ditch attempt to win the game on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. It's a permanent part of the conversation.

Win probability calculations showed the 49ers having a 32 percent chance of winning the game before that fourth-and-5 play. The incomplete pass dropped the 49ers' chances to 6 percent. The change of 26 percentage point was the largest for any play in the game, according to Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information.

A penalty against the Ravens would have given the 49ers first-and-goal from the 1-yard line with one timeout remaining. Their win probability would have jumped to 55 percent in that situation. The difference between 6 percent with no call and 55 percent with a call made the officials' ruling worth about one-half of a victory.

Some have also asked about the play when the Ravens blatantly held multiple 49ers players in the end zone, allowing Baltimore punter Sam Koch to run time off the clock before taking a safety. Officials clearly should have flagged the Ravens for holding on the play. While doing so would not have changed the result of the play, officials are supposed to call penalties when they see them regardless of circumstances to promote the integrity of the game. It's not their job to determine whether a penalty would really matter.

Questions about calls that mattered gain more traction amid evidence officials looked the other way in other situations.

One more thing: Rules would have allowed the 49ers to call for a fair catch on the Ravens' free kick following the safety. Doing so would have compelled San Francisco to attempt a field goal on the next play -- in this case, from the San Francisco 19-yard line.

The Arizona Cardinals tried this unsuccessfully during a 2008 season against the New York Giants. In such a case, the kicking team can execute a drop kick or a use a holder, but all kicks must be executed without a tee. Also, there would be no snap on these plays. Defensive players would have to stand 10 yards off the ball while the kicking team attempted the try.

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