When it was over, the story basically wrote itself. Despite playing in a frozen hellscape, the Niners simply did it again. They overcame their usual face-palmings—poor red-zone execution, even worse time-management—and won just like the Niners do. Their defense kept Aaron Rodgers in check, and Colin Kaepernick continued his Michael-Crabtree-charged resurgence, throwing and running all the way to the end, where he led a seventh game-on-the-line-in-the-fourth-quarter scoring drive, winning the game as the clock ran out.

That was the story, the official one anyway. Another dramatic victory for a franchise that seems to collect them like stamps. But as Phil Dawson's kick sailed through a Packer's arms—and, only then, through the frozen uprights—it wasn't the story that I had in mind. I mean, sure, initially, I was overcome with joyous relief. But once my breathing came back online, I've gotta say, I was only pissed off.

It's a shame, too, because the official story contains acts of heroism that deserve to be marked with a yellow highlighter. There's Kaepernick and Crabtree, of course, but there's so much more to a game like this. What about Eric Reid, the rookie who might've saved the season, one-on-one against Randall Cobb? What about Perrish Cox, who re-signed six days earlier and ended up seizing our most vulnerable position? And what about the Smiths, finally looking together again?

There's undoubtedly a great story there, but someone else will have to write it. Because all I could do was exert my frustration, over why the Packers—with their patchwork offensive line and their D that was barely professional-grade—had been able to scare us with such a close call.

All I could do was complain of the refs.

I admit that I'm late to the refs-you-suck party. After Neckgate, we discussed my policy that the officials should be treated as just another field-condition, no more impactful—and thus no more worthy of curses and taunts—than the windswept turf at Lambeau Field. If you're the better team, you overcome those conditions. If you slip on the turf, or if you're held but the flag isn't thrown, your reaction must be the same. Just get up and make the next play.

I like that position. It means you've got one less thing to worry about. Plus, you can't be accused of whining when a call goes against you, and you can't be accused of hypocrisy when a call goes against your opponent. It's just a strong, noble position.

And after Sunday, I'm rethinking it.

It's no secret that bad calls—empirically bad calls—were epidemic this season. With every week came a fresh round of league apologies and attendant hand-wringing. The Niners, of course, were serious victims—Neckgate, the fine for which was quietly rescinded, might've cost them the #1 seed—but they were hardly alone; the Steelers might've been cost the postseason. One prominent commentator dubbed 2013 "the Year of the Blown Call," and until there's an equivalent "Year of the Windswept Turf," it would seem unfair to treat those two conditions the same. Clearly, the officials are impacting the game in wildly disproportionate ways. So it's unrealistic to continue to treat them as a mild impediment to the better team's inevitable success. They're now a systemic encumbrance; and in a league with so much parity, the better team might not be better enough.

And on Sunday, the Niners almost weren't.

The officials didn't make bad calls, of course; instead they made virtually no calls at all. Granted, penalties would've extended the game, increasing the risk that thousands would die of severe hypothermia. But a job is a job, no matter the weather. One aspect of the officials' job was to announce clear fouls, and the officials simply chose to avoid it.

And the Packers took complete advantage. By now I've got no idea what Crabtree must do to draw a holding call in the end zone. (Such no-calls likely cost us eight points, not to mention last year's Super Bowl title.) And holding by the Packers' offensive line was so rampant that it would've been funny if it weren't so frustrating. (The most egregious, the hold that enabled Rodgers' latest fourth-down "miracle," likely cost us seven more.) Add those 15 points, and this game is the rout that it should've been. Instead, it's an "instant classic" that we barely escaped.

The company line—stated on the telecast and repeated by various news outlets—is that the refs were simply "letting ‘em play," to the equal benefit of both sides. And no question, the Niners wisely adjusted, increasing their own aggressiveness. But contrary to popular belief, "letting ‘em play" isn't necessarily fair to both sides. Though both are equally able to clutch and grab, a less-skilled team benefits much more. The less-skilled team can literally drag its opponent down to its level, keeping its opponent (and thus the game) close, holding out hope for a break at the end. The more-skilled team can't do the same—or it can't to the same extent, anyway—since you can't drag down what's already down.

That's precisely what happened here. The game was equal, but it wasn't fair.

Whether it's bad calls or no-calls, the officials are seriously threatening my enjoyment. As Sunday's game remained close, I couldn't stop obsessing over how many points the officials had scammed. And even when the Niners made a great play, my excitement was tempered by my constant fear that we'd finally see an unwarranted flag. And this mixed sensation—this tempered excitement—is becoming my default condition.

No, I don't think the league is fixed. And no, I don't think the league's out to get us. But I'm starting to worry about the officials more than I worry about our opponent. Especially after these last two years—each of which ended with highly questionable officiating—I almost literally can't stand the thought that the refs might dash our Super Bowl hopes. (Or dash our Super Bowl hopes again.) Yet that's the thought that I can't escape.

Hence the article you're reading now. This article should be about Kaepernick's evolving (though still imperfect) genius, Crabtree's incredible (though still progressing) recovery, and our D's continued ownership of one of the greatest QBs in the game. Instead it's about a crew of part-time league-employees, who nearly took it all away.

Only nearly, though, thank goodness. The Niners survive. Now we set our sights on the Panthers. They're a strong opponent, which is unfortunate. But what's more unfortunate is that they're not necessarily our only opponent.

Here's hoping the Niners can beat them both.