We’re in the midst of “what if” week at SB Nation. The NFL team sites are coming up with their favorite reimaginings of franchise history. We opened the week asking what might have happened if the Jim Harbaugh relationship had not deteriorated. Then, we talked about what might have been had the 49ers followed Bill Walsh’s advice and drafted Jake Plummer over Jim Druckenmiller.
Today, we move on to a painful one. What if this play had been properly called?
In Week 11 of the 2013 season, the 49ers were 6-3 and facing the 7-2 New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. It was a dogfight of a game, but the 49ers held a 20-17 lead when they punted to the Saints at the 6:48 mark. New Orleans started on their own 28, and had advanced to the 49ers 35-yard line. They faced a 3rd and 2 with 3:18 to go. Brees dropped back and Ahmad Brooks came flying around the edge to sack him and force a fumble recovered by Patrick Willis. The 49ers would have been set up at their own 45 yard line with 3:12 to go, and a chance to end this thing.
However, the refs threw a flag and called Brooks for a personal foul. The 49ers linebacker was also subsequently fined for this hit. It is not at all surprising referees would penalize this. Even on replay, the league’s penchant for playing things more conservatively on these calls might not have changed the call. But this penalty had a huge impact.
The 49ers won their next six straight to close out the season at 12-4. The Seattle Seahawks finished 13-3 and claimed home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They would go on to beat the 49ers in the NFC title game at CenturyLink Field in a game that went to the wire.
If the 49ers won that game, they would also have been 13-3. They split the season series with Seattle, so it would have gone to the divisional record tiebreaker. The 49ers were 5-1 to the Seahawks 4-2, so the 49ers would have won the division and claimed home field advantage.
In the ensuing playoffs, the 49ers won in Green Bay and Carolina, while the Seahawks won a divisional round home game against New Orleans to set up the NFC title game. Barring no other changes, those would have at the very least flipped around. Who knows if Seattle wins in Green Bay, but that changes a lot.
If that does change, maybe the 49ers end up in the Super Bowl, likely also beating Denver to bring home Lombardi No. 6. And of course, NaVorro Bowman doesn’t suffer the torn up knee at CenturyLink Field. That’s not to say another injury doesn’t happen, but Bowman for sure doesn’t tear up his knee in Seattle to close out the season.
There’s plenty of hypotheticals that arise from this, but all of this is to say, thanks 6’ Drew Brees for being too short and making the hit seem illegal when it was not. Thanks a lot.