It could have been a game-changing flag. With the 49ers leading the Atlanta Falcons 10-3 in the second quarter Sunday at Levi's Stadium, defensive end Arden Key sacked Matt Ryan on third-and-4 from the 49ers' 30-yard line, forcing Atlanta into a long field-goal attempt.
But officials threw a flag for roughing the passer after Key landed on Ryan with all of his weight. The penalty gave the Falcons a fresh set of downs, and Atlanta scored two plays later when Ryan hit Russell Gage for a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
The 49ers would cruise from that point forward, winning 31-13 to move to 8-6 and cement their position in the NFC playoff race. After the win, coach Kyle Shanahan lamented the call and said he would talk with the NFL about the flag and the rule.
"You're not allowed to land on the quarterback in a certain way," Shanahan said. "I'm not exactly sure. That's why I want to check [it] out with the league. I feel like it's a little different when you're hitting from behind and they're going forward. You don't totally always know if they're still a passer or running forward to move the chains on third down. I think he had one earlier this year that he's got to avoid. I thought that one was tough, though, so I'll see on the film and see what the league has to say about it."
Both Key and Nick Bosa were seen raising their hands after hitting the quarterback Sunday, trying to show the officials they weren't trying to hurt Ryan. Shanahan noted that it's an issue that has his defense worried.
"They're concerned about it," Shanahan said. "They all are. It's a tough job to get to the quarterback. It's tough when you get there to not get a penalty, so it's something we talk about all the time, stuff we show tape on, and it's a challenge to do it."
While it wasn't a factor in Sunday's win over the Falcons, the 49ers are right to be concerned about the flag and the impact it could have on a close game, especially in the playoffs.
It's something the 49ers must be aware of going forward, but Bosa is focused on making sure the defense can get Key's negated sack back on the ledger.
"I didn't see it, but you just can't land on them ever," Bosa said. "So took one away from the D-Line, but we'll make it up."