Updated: September 23rd, 2012 5:19pm
Replacement ref admits to two errors in granting challenges to 49ers

Replacement ref admits to two errors in granting challenges to 49ers

by Judd Zulgad
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MINNEAPOLIS - The NFL's replacement officials continued to make teams and fans long for the locked out referees with their work in the Minnesota Vikings' 24-13 victory over San Francisco on Sunday at the Metrodome.

Ken Roan, the referee for the game, admitted to a pool reporter that the crew made two mistakes in the fourth quarter by granting challenges to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

The first came when Vikings running back Toby Gerhart lost the ball on a second-and-10 play and it was recovered by linebacker Patrick Willis. Gerhart was ruled to be down initially, but Harbaugh called time out and then asked for the challenge on the fumble.

Roan overturned the call, which appeared to be correct in the first place.

The issue was that in order to challenge the play Harbaugh needed to have timeouts left - a team loses a timeout for an unsuccessful challenge - and the 49ers coach used his final timeout before deciding to challenge. Roan admitted Harbaugh should have had to throw the challenge flag first and then go through the challenge process.

"He was trying to conserve time," Roan said of Harbaugh. "What he was doing was calling 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.

"So he called a timeout immediately after the play was over. Then realizing that, 'Hey this is something that I want to challenge, but I just used my last timeout, can I challenge and get my timeout back?

"What I told him was, 'Well you challenged it not knowing what the result of the play was going to be.' So I granted him the challenge and we went and looked at it. That was wrong. I should not have. In order to do that, he has to have two timeouts left."

Because the mistaken challenge was successful, the 49ers were given their timeout back.

Thus, the same process repeated itself with 2:18 left in the fourth quarter when Gerhart fumbled again. The call was reversed after Harbaugh's challenge but Gerhart had recovered his own miscue this time.

The game started off in a bad way for the officials when they called an illegal block on the 49ers during the opening kickoff return by the Vikings' Percy Harvin. Harbaugh began screaming at the officials and the flag was picked up because "by rule," it wasn't a penalty.

"It was one of those things that we'll have to get some clarification about on Monday," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said when asked about the fourth-quarter decisions by the officials. "There were some head-scratchers, no question about it. But we're just proud of our guys not getting caught up ... in anything other than just playing the next play, and our guys did a good job of that, so just proud of the way they responded."

The normally calm Frazier could be seen at one point arguing with Roan on the sideline.

Gerhart, who was charged with three fumbles in the fourth quarter, said he was confused how Roan's crew decided the first challenge was ruled a fumble.

"I was stopped," Gerhart said. "They pushed me backwards. They blew the whistle. I was going down, and I just put the ball on the ground and got up and they grabbed it and then -- I don't know. That one, I have no idea. No excuses, but the other two, yes, got to hold onto the ball. I don't know what was going on there."

Vikings players have attempted to be on their best behavior about the officiating.

"You don't want things to happen where the outcome of the game is affected," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Even with the regular refs. All you can do is just play your game and try not to do what other teams have done and kind of get into a yelling match. You've just got to let it happen and just keep playing football.

"With the way things transpired there in the fourth quarter, it was really weird how things were going. We didn't really know what was going on. We thought it was a penalty because they had no timeouts and it was kind of a weird deal. But, anyways, we got the win."

Greenway did admit in his seven-year NFL career he never before has had to talk about the referees after every game. "That probably tells you the story right there," he said.

The regular officials remain locked out because of a labor dispute and the two sides do not appear to be close to a settlement. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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