In the second quarter, the Falcons were driving, and had a first and goal at the 49ers 5-yard line. Steven Jackson rushed for three yards, and then a penalty pushed Atlanta back to a 2nd and 7. Matt Ryan dumped a pass off to Jackson, and this happened:
Steve over at Bay Area Sports Guy has a GIF with a better angle from behind. In the BASG GIF, we actually get several angles on the hit. In all the angles, the hit appears to be coming in under the chin strap, and led with the shoulder. It seems to follow the letter of the law, but he was still flagged.
It really isn't a surprise Whitner was flagged on this play. In the speed of the moment, the refs often err on the side of so-called safety. There was some talk about his "Hitner" name change attempt bringing added scrutiny, but in the heat of the moment, I'm not entirely sure I buy that. It might cost him in terms of fines (although he's had successful appeals of fines), but given the way refs err on the side of some perceived caution, I don't think that's the issue.
One of the actual issues is the lack of review power on personal fouls. It would slow down the game to some extent, but when it comes to a 15-yard penalty (or half the distance to the goal in this case), you have to get it right. Maybe the Falcons still score a touchdown, and yes the 49ers did still win, but these plays can be serious game-changers. Shouldn't the league consider some kind of challenge system for these kinds of penalties? I don't think we need to see challenges for all penalties necessarily, but I do think certain penalties deserve a chance to be reviewed.