NFL Officials Blow Massive Call On First Drive Of NFC Championship Game, Kyle Shanahan Fails To Challenge

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It’s an NFL Sunday, which means referees are in the spotlight. And, like clockwork, they’ve already massively impacted the NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles faced a fourth-and-3 from the edge of field goal range (49ers’ 35 yard-line). Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni is typically on the more aggressive side and he showed no fear early in the NFC Championship.

Rather than attempt a field goal, the Eagles decided to go for it. Initially, quarterback Jalen Hurts couldn’t find anyone open. He moved to his left and saw DeVonta Smith running down the sideline.

Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass to DeVonta Smith against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in the NFL playoffs.
Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass to DeVonta Smith against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in the NFL playoffs. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Hurts tossed it up and Smith made an incredible one-handed to catch to convert the first down and set up Philadelphia with first-and-goal.

Just one problem: he didn’t actually catch it. And Smith knew it.

The receiver popped up off the ground and immediately began yelling to his teammates to hurry up to the line. He didn’t want the 49ers to see a replay showing that he did not catch the past.

The Eagles did exactly that. There was no time for head coach Kyle Shanahan to get the information he needed to make the call. And, using a challenge and potentially a timeout that early in the game would have hurt if he were wrong. He did not challenge the play.

After a commercial break Fox replays clearly showed the ball hitting the ground and the referees should have ruled the pass incomplete.

NFL rules set up to disproportionately hurt the defense

The problem here is that the offense can dictate whether or not a coach gets to see a replay. In this case, the Eagles forced the issue and put Shanahan into a tough spot.

Risk one of his two challenges and three timeouts less than five minutes into the game before being able to review a play that happened literally 50 yards from where he was standing.

49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga pointed to the ground after the play, but that was tough to see from the other side of the field. No one 49ers defender seemed to react as they raced to get into position for the ensuing snap.


If the goal for the NFL is to get calls correct, especially in these massive games, then the offense shouldn’t have such a massive advantage. If it had gone the other way, and it was ruled incomplete on the field, the offense would have had all the time in the world to see replays and make their decision.

At the end of the day, the wrong call was made and the wrong call led to an Eagles touchdown. And it cost the 49ers turning the ball over.

It’s a tiresome refrain that referees continue to have massive impacts on incredibly important games with millions of eyeballs on them.

Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ

Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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