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Inside the final two plays that decided the outcome in the Falcons’ upset of the 49ers


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https://theathletic.com/1462928/2019/12/15/inside-the-final-two-plays-that-decided-the-outcome-in-the-falcons-upset-of-49ers/

 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Touchdown. Not a touchdown. Not a touchdown. Touchdown.

The final two offensive plays for the Falcons in their 29-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday seemed like an entire quarter’s worth of time. Those plays, the climax of great theater put on display at Levi’s Stadium, were the most exciting and dramatic moments for the Falcons since a wild finish against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2.

Let’s begin with the first of the final two plays, on second-and-goal, which actually seemed to have put the Falcons on top with four seconds left in the game. From the 5-yard line, the Falcons lined up in the shotgun, with Devonta Freeman to Matt Ryan’s right. Russell Gage was out wide, and Julio Jones was in the slot. Austin Hooper was split off the line of scrimmage but not too far from right tackle Kaleb McGary. Christian Blake was close to Hooper’s right side.

Jones went in motion and turned back around, with the 49ers’ D.J. Reed Jr. following him. That signaled the 49ers were in man coverage. After the snap, Blake stopped at the goal line, and Hooper continued into the middle of the end zone. Ryan went with a contested throw to Hooper, who had safety Marcell Harris on his backside. Hooper secured two hands on the ball to Harris’ one and began bringing the ball to his body as Harris tried to knock it away. In doing so, Hooper closely gripped the ball in his right hand as if he palming a basketball. But as he brought the ball up from the ground, it popped loose, with Hooper then securing it between his legs.

On the field, it was ruled a touchdown.

As it is with any scoring play, it went for an automatic review. And that’s where things got dicey.

The ball appeared to touch the ground while it was still in Hooper’s hands. But did Hooper lose control? Ruled a touchdown on the field, the play seemed like it could be tough to overturn.

“I thought that was a touchdown by Austin Hooper,” Jones said. “I thought it was a touchdown. Even when the ball hit the ground, he controlled it. He was pulling it up, and then when he kicked it up, the ball never touched the ground. I thought that was a touchdown.”

Said safety Ricardo Allen: “I think it was a touchdown. He had it gripped with them big old paws. It popped up again, but I think he had it.”

Said Ryan: “Close. When you’re down that tight in the red zone, there are going to be tight-window throws. It was a great effort.”

During the Fox broadcast, rules analyst Dean Blandino stated that because the ball touched the ground and then popped loose, it should be ruled an incomplete pass. And after review, the play was deemed incomplete. A second was added to the clock, giving the Falcons five seconds from the 5.

Still, Falcons players who spoke after the game felt like the call should have stood.

“It was a touchdown, but they weren’t going to give it to us,” Allen said. “They were going to make us fight all the way to the end.”

Said Ryan: “The call didn’t go our way. At that point, you have to have the mindset of just getting right back to it and finding a way to get the job done the following play.”

Said head coach Dan Quinn: “I definitely thought Hooper’s was a touchdown, 100 percent about it. Then I just got on and said, ‘OK, if it’s not here, here’s where the ball would be spotted to Dirk (Koetter) to go. … Once you saw (the ball) on the ground, I knew there would be a shot that it wasn’t going to count, so it’s just getting ready for the next play, make sure Dirk had the information of where, what hash and what distance to go.”

Hooper didn’t want to talk about the officiating decision. But it was pretty obvious how he felt.

“I had it in one hand underneath. It is what it is, man,” Hooper said. “Buffalo Wild Wings stuff happens.”

Even with the reviewed call going against Atlanta, the Falcons still had a chance at one final play — or perhaps two — to secure an upset on the road against a team with the NFC’s best record and a chance to clinch a playoff berth. Those in the Falcons huddle and on the sideline never showed signs of panic.

“I think everyone on the sideline had confidence that it wasn’t close to being finished, even on that close call with Hooper,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We thought he had it. We still had time left, and we still had an opportunity to win the game.”

Said Freeman: “It was just, ‘Move on to the next play.’”

Said Ryan: “Honestly, I think everyone was pretty calm. Just understanding whether it goes our way or it doesn’t go our way, we have to be prepared for the next play. I think all of our guys had the right mindset the entire day.”

Now, on third-and-goal, the Falcons huddled up with one mission: get in the end zone. Each receiver was to get by or past the goal line to receive a pass. They lined Blake, Gage and Jones on the left, with Hooper the only receiving option on the right side of the formation. Freeman was in the backfield. Jones ran in motion to join Hooper on the right before the play snapped.

After the snap, Hooper ran to the middle of the defense and was able to take two defenders, including the man guarding Jones. Freeman ran a route out of the backfield to the right, forcing the defense to account for him. Jones, arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver, was then left open for a brief moment as he ran to the goal line.

The objective was to get in the end zone. But according to Jones, Ryan needed to throw the ball a tad earlier to ensure Jones could come up with the catch. Ryan threw the ball with Jones right at the goal line. Jones caught the ball and immediately felt contact from defensive back Jimmie Ward. Ward opted to tackle Jones low, with the star wide receiver then lifting up and contorting his body to fall backward. Reed then came up to hit Jones so he couldn’t fall into the end zone.

As Jones hit the turf, Gage threw his hands in the air to celebrate the winning touchdown. The officiating crew ruled Jones down an inch short.

As the 49ers celebrated, Gage hoped for two things — for the officials to review the play because it occurred with less than two minutes to play and for the crew to have a good camera angle.

“I knew he was in,” Gage said. “He said, ‘Was I in?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Julio’s a tall dude, so when they hit him, his body fell across. From my angle, I’m standing right on the goal line. I could tell he was in. I told him, ‘If they review this, you’re in. It’s a touchdown.’”

Almost immediately, the play went to the officiating booth for a review. The replay was shown on the Levi’s Stadium giant television screen. In the press box, the numerous televisions showed the Fox broadcast’s angles of the play.

This time, the evidence seemed conclusive for a Falcons touchdown. Blandino didn’t hesitate to say the play should be overturned. But as it is with NFL officiating these days, you never truly know.

“My whole thing was I just hoped they have the right angle,” Gage said. “I was just looking at the board. As soon as they showed it on the board, I just started running. I told him he was in. But it was a lot of emotions before.”

Said Freeman: “I didn’t see it because I was on a route. But when I looked at it on the replay, it looked good. It looked like he crossed the plane.”

Said Hooper: “Julio ran free, caught it. I basically set a basketball screen. I took two people on me, Julio’s man ran into me. Julio went and Julio Jones things.”

The officials overturned the play, signaling a touchdown for Atlanta and putting two seconds back on the clock.

“Obviously, I’m biased, I wanted to score the game-winner at home,” said Hooper, who grew in California and played in college at Stanford. “In the end, Julio scored it for us. Tremendous leader, tremendous brother in the locker room. We won. It really would have haunted me if we didn’t. The fact we won, all’s well that ends well.”

Said Quinn: “That was awesome. At the end, game on the line, those are the moments as a coach that you totally live for. It makes you feel most alive; it was awesome. We knew we would have to have a good road mentality to come out here.”

With two seconds to go, Younghoe Koo squib-kicked the ball, with the 49ers attempting to lateral their way to a miracle. Instead, Olamide Zaccheaus was able to return a fumbled lateral for a touchdown, giving the Falcons a seven-point victory.

While the score was tied at 10 at the break, the 49ers were able to open a 19-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Holding a nine-point lead, the 49ers seemed about to seize control.

Then the Falcons got a 1-yard touchdown from Qadree Ollison to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took 4:52 off the clock. Needing to hold San Francisco to a field goal, the Falcons got a gift from George Kittle — who otherwise had a brilliant performance with 13 catches for 134 yards — on a third-and-4 fumble that went out of bounds a yard short of the first-down marker.

“Just dropped it,” Kittle said. “I tried to switch hands with it so I could get a stiff-arm in. It didn’t work out well for me.”

The 49ers opted for the field goal and five-point advantage. The Falcons subsequently kicked open the cracked door they’d been presented.

The Falcons have two games remaining. While the postseason is out of the question, the players, coaches and management are still treating every game as a must-win opportunity. Falcons front office personnel seated in the press box were more than ecstatic with the victory. After Quinn’s postgame news conference, more than a dozen shareholders, friends and family of the ownership group, cheered Quinn and gave him an ovation.

While the season largely has been a disappointment, wins like this are the reason everyone in the organization continues to prepare like everything is at stake.

“When you spend this much time and care about one another, you love one another so you want to fight,” Quinn said. “So when it doesn’t go exactly as you’d hope for them, you want to get it to that space where you can. What I love about them is their attitude to fight for it. That means a lot to me personally and I always want to make sure I’m giving them my best so they’re going to get it every time. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of fighters. That means a lot to me because they are going to go to battle for it, and I think that was a clear example of that (Sunday).”

 

 

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Thanks for sharing.  Absolutely amazing finish and despite this season being a disappointment to all of us I have had colleagues compliment the fight and “heart” out teams has played with the past few weeks.  I am torn over the changes that may or may not happen in the upcoming weeks, but one thing is without question, our boys have not quit on themselves or their team.  Amazing W today.

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9 minutes ago, Peteshweddy said:

Thanks for sharing.  Absolutely amazing finish and despite this season being a disappointment to all of us I have had colleagues compliment the fight and “heart” out teams has played with the past few weeks.  I am torn over the changes that may or may not happen in the upcoming weeks, but one thing is without question, our boys have not quit on themselves or their team.  Amazing W today.

This is why I’m don’t like when fans talk about resting this guy or not playing hard take your medicine for a draft pick.As a fan I want to see my team fight the whole way situation regardless.I can handle being beat I can but I hate seeing our team roll over and just give in.

Inconsistency and ill discipline are bad enough to watch but rolling over is a bridge to far for me.If they fight the whole way I’m good with that.

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Hooper caught that ball. It never touched the ground, but hit the top of his shoe.   I was staring at the screen dumbfounded that no one mentioned that possibility at all nor did anyone in NY see that.  There was nothing in the replay that could be considered irrefutable evidence that it was not a catch.  

Instead every analyst had tunnel vissioin on the whole control rule instead of actually seeing that the "ball touching the ground" itself was very much not clear.

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4 minutes ago, lymond said:

Hooper caught that ball. It never touched the ground, but hit the top of his shoe.   I'm was staring at the screen dumbfounded that no one mentioned that possibility at all nor did anyone in NY see that.  There was nothing in the replay that could be considered irrefutable evidence that it was not a catch.  

Instead every analyst had tunnel vissioin on the whole control rule instead of actually seeing that the "ball touching the ground" itself was very much not clear.

The refs had a vision of how the game should end. Matt and Julio saw it differently.

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58 minutes ago, lymond said:

Hooper caught that ball. It never touched the ground, but hit the top of his shoe.   I was staring at the screen dumbfounded that no one mentioned that possibility at all nor did anyone in NY see that.  There was nothing in the replay that could be considered irrefutable evidence that it was not a catch.  

Instead every analyst had tunnel vissioin on the whole control rule instead of actually seeing that the "ball touching the ground" itself was very much not clear.

I just watched the replay 3 times. It did not hit his shoe. Definitely the ground. That being said, he maintained control of the ball with one hand and brought it up to his body, where he juggled it again. I guess they ruled he trapped it on the ground. Weird play either way.

Edited by OilFuturesTrader19
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1 hour ago, OilFuturesTrader19 said:

I just watched the replay 3 times. It did not hit his shoe. Definitely the ground. That being said, he maintained control of the ball with one hand and brought it up to his body, where he juggled it again. I guess they ruled he trapped it on the ground. Weird play either way.

I thought he had control even when it hit the ground.The ball didn’t move that tells me he had control.Good to see they came back and finished the job though.

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7 hours ago, kiwifalcon said:

This is why I’m don’t like when fans talk about resting this guy or not playing hard take your medicine for a draft pick.As a fan I want to see my team fight the whole way situation regardless.I can handle being beat I can but I hate seeing our team roll over and just give in.

Inconsistency and ill discipline are bad enough to watch but rolling over is a bridge to far for me.If they fight the whole way I’m good with that.

Tankers don’t understand the game.

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