In the third quarter of the 49ers 19-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks, safety Donte Whitner was flagged for taunting. The previous play, Colin Kaepernick appeared to underthrow an end zone pass to Michael Crabtree. Byron Maxwell picked it off and eventually was tackled at the Seahawks 3-yard line. On the first play after the interception, Marshawn Lynch ran four yards, where he was tackled by Whitner and Carlos Rogers. It was at the end of this play where we see the flag.
Here is the Lynch run leading up to just before the flag was thrown. Thanks to James for getting these GIFs together:
As you can see, Rogers slowed Lynch, and then Whitner gave him a shove. That resulted in Lynch and Whitner going facemask-to-facemask, exchanging some holiday pleasantries. Doesn't seem like the end of the world. No punches were thrown. We're all good friends, right?
Not so fast, my friends! In this second angle, we see the flag come out.
Clearly they were exchanging words, but how on earth does the head linesman (#36) throw a flag there? I am all ears for any reasonable explanation for that flag. I understand wanting to break up the players and prevent punches from being thrown, but refs can do that without throwing a flag.
I suppose it is possible Whitner was warned earlier, but given the incompetence of this particular group of refs, I think this is just one more example of their shoddy work. I'm open to other interpretations.
At the time of the flag, I tweeted something about needing to be smarter than that. Based on what I see here, I was wrong in that tweet. Whether you think smack talk is necessary or not, this does not strike me as a situation where a flag should be thrown.
It should surprise nobody that Donte Whitner agrees with that conclusion.
#49ers' Donte Whitner on taunting flag: "I guess you just have to have refs that don't understand the gm & think it's like girls out there."— Phil Barber (@Skinny_Post) December 9, 2013
He also said, "This is the NFL, there's grown men and sometimes you'll say some things and they'll say some things back and that was it. I guess [the referee] didn't like what we were saying."
Clearly the ref did not like it. I'm not really sure what else can be done in this situation.