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AP Photo -Genevieve Ross
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - When the final whistle sounded Sunday afternoon at Mall of America Field, the Vikings emerged victorious with a 24-13 victory over the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers. While the boxscore will forever show Minnesota as the victor, the outcome was not always a sure bet and unfortunately, the replacement refs played a large part to do with the embarrassment of the situation.
Late in the fourth quarter, as the Vikings were doing their best run out the remaining 3:33, Toby Gerhart took a handoff up the middle where he was stopped at the 49ers 35-yard line for no gain. San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh quickly called their third and final timeout, attempting to stop the clock from running.
"He was trying to conserve time," head referee Ken Roan told a handful of reporters gathered after the game. "What he was doing was calling a timeout immediately after the play was over, not knowing what the result of the play was, whether it was a challengeable play or whether it was not a challengeable play."
It turns out that this play in particular was challengeable and Harbaugh's coaches in the booth quickly got word to the sidelines that Gerhart had in fact fumbled the football and they should challenge the call on the field.
In a state of confusion that only hampered the issue, Harbaugh asked Roan if he could challenge the play and get his time out back. Section 9 of the NFL Rulebook clearly states that (outside of 2-minutes) a play can only be challenged and reviewed if the challenging team has one or more timeouts remaining. In fact, there is a penalty of 15-yards that should be handed to team's attempting to initiate a challenge when the team is prohibited from doing so. In this situation, Harbaugh had already expended all of the 49ers timeouts, thus should not have been awarded the challenge and should have in turn been penalized 15-yards.
Former NFL vice president of officiating in the NFL, Mike Pereira voiced his disdain with the situation on Twitter. "Harbaugh called the timeout as soon as the play was over," Pereira tweeted. "If that was his third, then he is no longer able to challenge."
Despite the rule's restrictions, Roan obliged and granted the Niners the challenge. When the call on the field was reversed, San Francisco found themselves down 11 points, with the ball ontheir own 38-yard line and they awarded their third timeout back.
Four plays later, rookie cornerback Josh Robinson intercepted an Alex Smith ball down the right sidelines and the Vikings once again had the ball and were able to begin icing the game.
The very next play, Toby Gerhart took a handoff up the middle and was again dragged down shortly after the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh quickly called his final timeout (SF's 4th timeout) and then the exact same scenario unfolded. The timeout was changed to a challenge, the play was ruled a fumble, only this time Gerhart had recovered and San Francisco was charged their final timeout, again.
After the game, referee Ken Roan admitted his mistake saying, "That was wrong...If you are out of timeouts, then you can't challenge anything because you lose a timeout if you lose a challenge, and you have nothing to lose so you can't make a challenge."
Usually a calm and collected presence on the sidelines, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier could be seen losing his cool on the other sidelines yelling at the officials. After the game he joined KFAN and delicately explained the situation.
"It was one of those things that we'll have to get some clarification from on Monday," Frazier told KFAN's Greg Coleman. "There were some head scratchers...I'd mess it up to try to explain it to you."
Today's game-ending scenario did not factor in the final score of the game, but it did result in misplaced possession which, given the right situation, could effect the outcome of a game. Thankfully for Leslie Frazier and the Vikings, it didn't.
"It was a weird sequence," Frazier said. " I'm just so happy that we won the game and it didn't hurt us."
This issue alone should scare the NFL into sparking negotiations with the locked out officials but when you couple this with the issues that arose last week, something needs to be done to get the regular officials back onto the field before an inaccurate ruling does cost a team a game.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings' updates and breaking Vikings' news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjMansourKFAN