Football Zebras™

49ers dispute Kaepernick grounding, safety

Week 13: 49ers at Rams

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rolls out while umpire Undrey Wash observes the play.

On a pass from his end zone, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an incomplete pass toward the line of scrimmage, but out of bounds. Referee Carl Cheffers, after consulting with head linesman  Kent Payne, ruled it intentional grounding. Since the foul occurred in the end zone, it was a safety, giving the Rams two points (video).

“It was an intentional grounding,” Cheffers told a pool reporter. “The quarterback rolled out of the pocket and he needs one of two things: he either needs a receiver in the area, or he needs to throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. The official on that side of the field came to me and reported that neither of those things took place. So, we have intentional grounding.”

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh disagreed. “It appeared from what I saw from the film was that the ball definitely made it back past the line of scrimmage.”

The rulebook seems to allow this play, because it did not specifically call for the line of scrimmage in bounds, and it makes a general reference to the ball going out of bounds. Rule 8, Section 2, Article 1, Item 1:

Intentional grounding will not be called when a passer, who is outside, or has been outside, the tackle position throws a forward pass that lands at or beyond the line of scrimmage, even if no offensive player(s) have a realistic chance to catch the ball (including when the ball lands out of bounds over the sideline or endline).

Fox Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira disagreed with the foul and safety. He believes it was a legal incomplete pass. One interesting aspect to the call is that the ball goes over the head of Payne, the head linesman, who could not fully see where the ball landed.

Harbaugh declined to comment if he was contacting the league office. “We aren’t under the privilege of saying what we’ll communicate to the league,” he said.

Pool report with Carl Cheffers

[Note: The transcript provided only included general references to the questions asked.] 

Q: [On the explanation of the safety play and why it was called a safety]

Carl Cheffers: It was an intentional grounding. The quarterback rolled out of the pocket and he needs one of two things: he either needs a receiver in the area, or he needs to throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. The official on that side of the field came to me and reported that neither of those things took place. So, we have intentional grounding. And because he threw the ball from the end zone, by rule, that penalty is enforced and the result of the enforcement is a safety, by rule.

Q: [On if that play is subject to review]

Cheffers: No, it is not. It’s all judgment. So, none of that is subject to a review.

Q: [On if it was not reviewable because it was called a penalty]

Cheffers: No aspect of that is reviewable. The result of the play is not a scoring play, it’s a penalty enforcement that results in a score. There’s just no aspect of that play that, by rule, is challengeable.

Image credit: San Francisco 49ers

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