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49ers-Eagles: Kyle Shanahan explains why he didn’t challenge WR DeVonta Smith’s fourth-down catch

Jan 29, 2023 at 4:28 PM--

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It didn't wind up making a huge difference in the end, but the decision on the 49ers' end to not challenge what was incorrectly called a catch by Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith on the first drive of Sunday's NFC Championship game could have resulted in a healthy amount of second-guessing towards 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, had the game wound up being much closer than it was.

But, as Shanahan explained after the game, the 49ers didn't see the angle of the play that would have overturned the original call, and the Eagles were able to get their next play off before anyone had a chance to review the play.

Smith made what originally looked like a dazzling one-handed 29-yard catch on a 4th-and-3 play of the game's opening possession, setting up the Eagles with a 1st-and-Goal. The Eagles scored a touchdown two plays later to go up 7-0, but televised replay of the catch showed the ball hit the ground and should have been ruled incomplete.

The Eagles went on to win 31-7, but the call was still a popular topic of discussion following the game. Shanahan told reporters he was thinking of challenging the call but decided not to based on what he saw at the time.

"The replay we saw didn't definitively show that," Shanahan said. "We saw one up on the scoreboard. I was going to throw one anyways just to hope to take the chance, but they showed one up on the scoreboard that didn't have all the angles you guys saw, and that looked like a catch. So we don't want to waste the time out, which we definitely would have if we didn't see that. But then I heard they got a couple of other angles and you guys end up seeing later that it was not a catch."

49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward, who was in coverage on the play, didn't know the pass was incomplete until informed by reporters after the game. Ward responded by saying that his performance against the Eagles should get a good grade once the missed call on the catch is taken away, along with a pass interference call on him later in the game that he thought was unwarranted.

"Was it incomplete? It was?" Ward said. "So you're telling me they hit me with a PI that was a good play and they said he caught the ball? Oh man. I had a good game then."

Shanahan went on to say there are a number of eyes looking at a play when considering whether or not to issue a challenge, but the definitive angle that was shown after the fact wasn't available to anyone until it was too late. He was then asked if he felt that angle should have been shown earlier based on league protocol.

"I wish... I think the NFL can do that, if they see it. They're supposed to do it, but we didn't see it. So there's a play clock. You got 40 seconds. They're going to get it off. And they got it off. I was going to throw it anyways, just hoping, but it looked like he caught it.

"And then they show a replay up there, which I was shocked they showed it, but it ended up looking like a catch on the replay too because you couldn't see the other angle. So that's why we didn't. And then I was told at the end of the drive they saw a couple of other angles and I was told it was incomplete."

Things slowly fell apart for the 49ers after the touchdown, even though they were first able to tie the game at 7-7 after a touchdown run from Christian McCaffrey. Injuries to quarterbacks Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson along with too many turnovers and penalties to overcome wound up being too much for the 49ers to overcome, which made the Smith call just one of several moments the 49ers wish they had back. But if the 49ers were able to hang in the game until the end, that moment in the first quarter would have certainly loomed much larger than it does right now.

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