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49ers exploit rules with triple defensive holding


Week 9: Saints at 49ers (video via Deadspin)

49ers head coach Chip Kelly employed a rarely used tactic: he  intentionally  broke the rules to gain an advantage. With eight seconds remaining in the first half and the Saints well within field goal range, the 49ers defensive backs held their opponents on purpose to take time off of the clock, and to make sure they would not give up a touchdown through the air. This lead to three flags and a long announcement from referee Jerome Boger:

There are multiple fouls on the play, all against the defense: Holding, defense, number 25, that foul is declined. Holding, defense, number 27, that penalty is declined. Holding, defense, number 35, has been accepted. Five-yard penalty, automatic first down.

This was a smart tactic by the 49ers for a few reasons. First, only one live ball foul can be accepted so the Saints would only get five yards no matter how many defensive holding flags were thrown on the play. Second, time is not put back on the clock due to fouls so they could continue to hold on purpose to reduce the time on the clock. The only point that would change is when time runs out, as the period would be extended for an untimed down after a defensive penalty. The only real drawback to this strategy is that it eliminates any chance for the 49ers to have a big play. If the Saints had a miscue and turned the ball over, it would be negated by the fouls. In this case however, the 49ers executed to perfection and held the Saints to a field goal.

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Patrick Weber
Patrick Weber is a four sport official working at the high school and college levels in football, baseball, basketball and soccer. He currently resides near Chicago, Illinois.

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One thought on “49ers exploit rules with triple defensive holding

  1. One could reasonably argue that intentionally committing fouls to take time off the clock rises to the level of a palpably unfair act, especially when enough players are committing them that it’s obvious that it’s purposeful. But since the palpably unfair act rule is so rarely (has it ever been?) invoked, the refs would be really sticking their necks out to call it. If they did though, the rulebook basically says they can do what they think is fair – if it were a rule that was invoked with any frequency, or the league wanted to use a play like this to start invoking it, I would argue that a fair resolution would be to award 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct and reset the game clock.

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