Football Zebras™

Week 2’s MNF meltdown crew hands out challenges, timeouts like Halloween candy

Week 3: 49ers at Vikings

[Editor’s note: This post has been significantly revised; see the explanation at the end.]

Many considered it an egregious error by the replacement officials when the Seahawks gained an unearned fourth timeout in Week 1. What, then, is the appropriate adjective to modify the word error when a team is granted two additional timeouts and two challenges they were not entitled to?

With 3:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, the 49ers needed extra time to decide if they should challenge. Coach Jim Harbaugh called his third timeout of the game. The announcement by referee Ken Roan was not heard by the television audience, but it should have resembled this:

Timeout, San Francisco. This is their third, and final, timeout. They are unable to use a coach’s challenge for the remainder of the game.

But that obviously was not said. And this is the same crew that had the worst day of any crew six days ago during the Broncos-Falcons Monday night game. That one was so bad, it actually brought the NFL and the referees union back to the negotiating table, briefly.

In the Sunday game, Harbaugh threw the red challenge flag, but by rule, you can only challenge when you have a timeout to use, and Harbaugh just used it to deliberate if he should challenge. Not only would the challenge not be granted, but it is a 15-yard penalty to challenge a play that is not subject to a challenge.

If Harbaugh lost the challenge, he would have been charged a timeout, despite the fact he had none to give. The 49ers won the challenge, and referee Roan said that they were “not charged a timeout.” But not only did the Niners catch a break with an extra challenge, but the timeout from before the challenge was returned. The officiating crew, with the benefit of the game supervisor, was unable to correct their records, which set up the next officiating lapse.

At the 2:18 mark in the fourth quarter, there was an apparent fumble by the Vikings, but the ruling on the field was no turnover. Harbaugh called for his second “third timeout.” But, surely, this crew has regrouped having seen this timeout/challenge problem play out just one football minute ago.

Undeterred, Roan allows the challenge for the 49ers. And they did not get the ball, so they technically lost the challenge (fumble was seen, but no recovery). So that would be the fifth charged timeout.

If you are counting, that is two extra timeouts and two challenges that were not permitted.

Roan admitted the error to a pool reporter:

[Harbaugh] called a timeout immediately after the play was over, then realized that, “Hey, it was something that I want to challenge, but I just used my last timeout. Can I challenge and get my timeout back? How does that work?”

I told him, “You challenged it not knowing what the result was going to be,” so I granted him the challenge, and we went and looked at it. That was wrong, and I should not have. In order to [take a timeout and then challenge], he has to have two timeouts left.

The 49ers were down by two scores, and eventually lost the ball on a subsequent interception, but Roan and his crew did give the 49ers second, and third, life. The game supervisor (we are checking to see who it was) also failed to intervene and fix these correctable mistakes.

And, so, this crew’s attempt to tread water had them drowning again. As long as the league is using accountability as a negotiating point in the referee’s collective bargaining agreement, the NFL should give this crew a week off to stay dry.

Update: The original version of this post was based off of information contained in the NFL official play-by-play report. Because the report attempted to match the erroneous calls on the field, our initial reporting did not reflect the earlier challenge by Harbaugh. This post also includes the pool report offered by the referee.

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