SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ 29-22 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday included a bizarre finish in which two officiating rulings in the final eight seconds were overturned after replay reviews.
After time had clicked off the scoreboard, and the 49ers had thought they won the game, a call of Falcons receiver Julio Jones being stopped short of the goal line was reviewed by referee Craig Wrolstad and NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron in New York.
Ultimately, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was credited with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jones. If the call had stood as called on the field, the 49ers would have survived with a 22-17 victory.
Instead, the 49ers were left with an agonizing loss that drops them out of the top spot in the NFC West.
It was determined the football in Jones’ hands broke the plane of the goal line, Riveron told a pool reporter from NBC Sports Bay Area. All reviews with less than two minutes remaining are initiated by a replay official.
“We see the player gain control of the football,” Riveron said. “We see two feet on the ground. And we see what we say is ‘brown breaking white,’ which is the football breaking the plane of the goal line in control. He completes the process, therefore, it’s a touchdown.”
Riveron said the camera was directly down the goal line, which provided a conclusive angle for the replay of the game-deciding play.
“We’re looking right down the goal line,” Riveron said. “As a matter of fact, if you look at the replay, you can see the official at the other end, on the other sideline, the official that doesn’t signal anything and we’re looking at him right down the line.
“It’s clear and obvious to us that he gains control with two feet on the ground, completes the process and brown breaks white.”
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said he had no issue with the reversal of the original call after seeing the replay shown on the video boards inside Levi’s Stadium.
“That’s what I saw on the scoreboard, too,” Shanahan said.
A split-second after Jones made the catch near the goal line, 49ers safety Jimmie Ward hit Jones low, while nickel back D.J. Reed converged in an attempt to keep Jones out of the end zone. When Jones landed he was still on the field of play, which gave the illusion to almost all in attendance that he did not score.
“I was confident, but at the same time, I didn’t know how close he was to the goal line,” Ward said. “It was bang-bang play.”
After two seconds were placed back on the clock because the timing stops after a touchdown. The Falcons waived their right to go for the extra point with their 23-22 lead.
Then, Atlanta scored another touchdown on the final play of the game when Olamide Zaccheaus scored on a recovery of Raheem Mostert’s errant lateral on the ensuing kickoff.
It looked as if the 49ers had lost the game one play earlier when Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper was originally ruled to have caught a touchdown pass with :05 remaining. Hooper appeared to catch the ball against right coverage from 49ers safety Marcell Harris.
But Hooper had the ball in his right hand and the ball touched the ground. He lost control of the ball, which prevented him from completing the act of completing the catch, Riveron said.
“We see that the player gets control of the football, he gets two feet down, but he doesn’t make a football move,” Riveron said. “The ball actually takes him to the ground. This is the one remaining situation where you have two steps, but if you don’t have a football move, you’re going to the ground, you must survive the ground.
“In this situation, he takes the ball, it hits the ground and then he loses control of the football when he comes back up. Therefore, it’s an incomplete pass.”
The 49ers’ excitement of seeing that play overturned did not last long, though.
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“I just felt my heart drop,” said 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who was directly behind the play on which Jones was ruled to have scored the winning touchdown.
“I saw the replay, and when he caught it, maybe it could’ve been across it (the goal line). I mean, the refs know what they’re doing. I thought it could go either way.”