SEATTLE—People can point to the referees all they want.
Yes, a terrible third down roughing-the-passer call on linebacker Nick Moody gave Seattle a fresh set of downs. The call essentially gifted Seattle a two-possession lead, all but ending the game with minutes to play.
But frustrated players, coaches, and fans that are heaping the blame for San Francisco’s 17-7 loss to Seattle on referee Ed Hochuli and company are deflecting blame in the wrong place.
It was a horrible call. There’s absolutely no denying that. During Fox’s broadcast of the game, former head of NFL officiating Mike Pereira briefly joined the broadcast and explained that Moody’s hit on Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was nearly picture-perfect, and in fact, a great example of the type of contact that league officials are encouraging from defensive players.
In defense of the call, Hochuli, who has a history of late-game blunders, refused to admit he was at fault.
“The crown is the top of the helmet, the hairline is up at the top of the forehead,” Hochuli said, “That is still a foul when you hit the quarterback with that part of your head.”
Let’s say Hochuli doesn’t make the call. Say Seattle settles for a field goal attempt instead of a touchdown. Even if kicker Steven Hauschka misses the chip-shot field goal, does an offense that’s totaled 23 points in its last 12 quarters of football match down the field and score a field goal, much less a touchdown?
A lion’s share of the blame has also been placed on head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has overseen the decline of one of the most talented teams in the NFL.
Harbaugh’s likely done in San Francisco, missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons at the helm, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been far-and-away the team’s greatest disappointment of 2014, plummeting from his position as one of the games most dynamic young talents.
Sunday’s performance was better than Kaepernick’s 173 yard, 2 interception stinker against Oakland in week 14. In fact, he was statistically better than MVP candidate Russell Wilson.
Statistics aren’t everything. When Seattle needed a score to put the game away, Wilson confidently led his team down the field, albeit aided by the penalty, connecting with Paul Richardson on the decisive score.
In doing so, Wilson effectively sealed an NFC playoff birth, putting Seattle in prime position to lock up the conference’s number-one seed.
Anyone confidently arguing that San Francisco’s Kaepernick-led attack could have done the same is in denial.
Those calling for Harbaugh’s firing are not only neglecting his previous three seasons of dominance, but also the reality that he’s kept a San Francisco team ravaged by suspensions and injuries in the thick of playoff contention for most of the season.
As 2014 winds to a disappointing close, the 49ers future looks every bit as questionable as their coaching situation.