The 49ers’ first touchdown in their 23-7 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday came after they benefited from a controversial forward-progress call in the third quarter.
Down 7-3 with a little over eight minutes in the third, San Francisco linebacker Marcell Harris intercepted Texans quarterback Davis Mills, and less than five seconds later, the ball was stripped out of Harris’ hands.
Players pointed in different directions, refs ran over to each other with confusion on their faces, and Levi’s Stadium roared.
The Texans believed they had regained possession, but the game officials ruled that Harris’ forward progress had been stopped before Houston wide receiver Chris Conley stripped the ball loose. Since forward progress is not reviewable, Texans coach David Culley wasn't able to challenge.
The very next play, Texans cornerback Terrance Mitchell was called for a 37-yard pass-interference penalty against Brandon Aiyuk to set up the 49ers in the red zone.
The Niners benefited from both calls and ended up scoring their first TD on that same drive to go up 10-7, which sparked momentum for the red and gold.
And Houston never scored again.
Culley said the play was a game-changer.
“It was a big swing, a big momentum swing,” Culley told reporters after the game. “They ended up scoring off of that. When we came back, we also had a sack right there, which pushed us back in the field-goal deal that we missed. I think that the momentum completely swung off the interception and the fact that we missed the field goal.”
Culley also said officials didn’t explain to him why they made the call.
The only thing Mills said after the game was that he needs to make a better decision on the throw, but didn’t dive into the forward-progress ruling.
On the other side, Kyle Shanahan and Harris addressed the penalties.
“Those were two of the best calls I’ve seen this year,” Shanahan said jokingly after the game. “No, I felt Marcell made a hell of a play and then I did feel we were very fortunate that that kept going.”
Harris gave his two cents on the rollercoaster ride, and said he agreed with the ruling.
“Yeah, I knew I caught it, but you got to hold on to that thing,” Harris said. “For the most part, I thought I was down. I heard the whistle as I was being held up, and God was behind me and we got the ball back with a chance for the offense to score. I can’t ask for nothing more.”
The 49ers improved to 9-7 with the win and remain in control of their own NFC playoff destiny. They will head to Southern California next week for the final game of the regular season against the Los Angeles Rams.