OT- Strategy used by Harbaugh in declining a safety

Submitted by trueblue262 on October 19th, 2012 at 2:19 PM

Maybe I'm not reading it right, which is possible based on excitement level for the big game tomorrow. But if the 49ers were up by 7, and took a safety (which would increase the lead to 9), how in the world would it be possible to lose in 48 seconds?

Either way, Jim shook up Vegas a bit last night with the line being 7-8.5




October 19th, 2012 at 2:21 PM ^

You play to win the game.

Accept the safety, and you're up 9... but with an onside kick coming. Decline the penalty (it was 4th down), and you get the ball back and can take two knees and leave the stadium. Declining the penalty removes all variability.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:34 PM ^

Couldn't agree more.  The funny thing is that the crack commentators didn't get it AT ALL.  I'm convinced that they had someone talking in their ears explaining it and it *still* took a while.

Even so, I was thinking about how many people were angry/thrilled sitting there with their betting slips in hand. 


October 19th, 2012 at 2:42 PM ^

I guess the counter would be that taking snaps always introduce the possibility of a turnover and giving Seattle another chance at trying the game.  With the safety, yes there is an onside coming but you also get a bit of a cushion even if they recover.  I agree that taking the knees made the most sense, but you can play to win the game in multiple ways that can contradict each other.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:45 PM ^

It's one of those "should the player on a breakaway lay the ball up or dribble the clock out with three seconds left in the game when his team is up by 6." There are reasonably theoretical arguments on both sides, but in a practical sense it doesn't much matter.


October 19th, 2012 at 4:02 PM ^

as a man who lost 1500 $ when westbrook didn't run into the endzone I disagree with the people who just 'want to win'.  lol.

I still hate westbrook even though he did the right thing and I won't draft 'team' players in fantasy.  I want greedy fucks.





October 19th, 2012 at 4:34 PM ^

...that was a fumbled hand-off.  The Giants tried to run a real play for some reason. 

There has been at least one fumbled snap on a kneel-down, though. I don't know how to embed, but the link will take you to a video of Brandon Weeden (then at Okla. St.) fumbling a snap on what was to be a kneel-down play. 




October 19th, 2012 at 6:44 PM ^

They had a guaranteed win by doing exactly what they did.  As for "how could they lose?"  Here's a scenario:

49ers take the safety and are up by nine.  They fumble the free kick, and Seattle takes it in for the touchdown: 49ers up by two.  Then, Seattle recovers an onside kick, followed by a successful "Hail Mary:" Seahawks up by five with extra point. Seahawks win.  

Was this going to happen?  Probably not.  But why even allow for the possibility?  Harbaugh made the right call.



October 20th, 2012 at 10:54 AM ^

You don't need that last Hail Mary -- a field goal would win as well.

Agree that JH absolutely made the right choice -- the chances of fumbling a kneel-down snap versus the chances of mishandling a free kick aren't even in the same universe in terms of probability.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:23 PM ^

Muff the punt, seattle recovers, scored quickly, recovers onsides kick, kicks FG.


Low probability, but crazy shit happens in the NFL.  It was a great piece of situational coaching by Harbaugh (dead as he may be to me).  Right call, 100%.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:32 PM ^

His decision makes sense...even if a little extreme.

With the ball, up by 7, and taking a knee you have a 99.99% chance of winning.  Facing an onside kick, up by 9, you have a 99.00% chance of winning.

That 1% was the Lions tying the Titans earlier this year



October 19th, 2012 at 9:45 PM ^

It may not seem like there's a lot of difference between the odds in those two cases, but if you're working for a casino or an insurance company making book on rare events the difference between 100:1 and 10,000:1 is enormous.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:47 PM ^

Never mind my onside kick question....Instead, here is a picture of HAM, the first chimp in space.  I like the fact that he appears to appreciate the seriousness of his responsibilities.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

I had Seattle +7.5

Helluva call, Jimmy!!

I still wish somebody had asked him about the spread implications of the move. There's a 50/50 chance that harbaugh tells some BS story......


October 19th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

So...Harbaugh asks for the measurement and they are short.  Decline pentalty, SF Ball.  Game over.

But wait...then they review the play for the spot.

What happens if the spot is overturned?  Now that the penalty has been declined, can Harbaugh go back and un-decline the penalty?


October 19th, 2012 at 6:26 PM ^

If the spot is overturned after video review, then the coach has the option to change his decision on whether to accept the penalty. If Seattle had been awarded a first down after the video review, then Harbaugh would have accepted the penalty and taken the ensuing kickoff with a 9-point lead. 

Basically, the penalty put Seattle behind the eight ball, because even if the video booth reversed the spot and gave them a first down, they wouldn't have benefited from it.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:43 PM ^

It's a free kick. You can put it on a tee if you'd like, but I gather punts actually travel better in the air (remember, "punt distance" doesn't calculate the 12-15 yards the punt takes to cross the line of scrimmage). I did not know that an onside kick was possible on a free kick after a safety until last night, when (among others) Peter King confirmed it. I had never seen it, despite safeties occasionally occurring in late-game situations. 

With that in mind, Harbaugh made the right choice. Taking the ball puts him in a scenario where he can win the game by properly executing one snap. Since that snap is a kneel-down that is virtually never mishandled, that gives him a sure win.

A scenario where Seattle successfully makes two onside kicks on either side of a 70-yard drive in under 30 seconds is pretty remote, but I guess Harbaugh felt it slightly more likely. 

Actually, the real concern would be the 49ers playing up for the onside kick, Seattle kicking it over their heads (with more field to work with) and the 49ers fumbling the ball in the confusion. That's actually not an unthinkable scenario, and it puts Seattle in good position to score. It's remote, but it wouldn't surprise me if that's what Harbaugh had in mind, and I can understand avoiding it.


October 19th, 2012 at 2:53 PM ^

in the event that seattle doesn't realize they could've onsided the kick (because the commentators and many others including myself didn't know until know you could attempt an onside kick after a safety so who knows if they knew it) so they kick a high deep punt and race everyone down field to try and force a fumble and get good field position, score, then do a regular onside kick.  So, Harbaugh prevents that by just taking a knee after declining the safety.  Weird ending to a game but it makes sense.


October 19th, 2012 at 5:44 PM ^

This was one of the few situations where an onside kick after a safety made sense. Unless there's a penalty, whoever gets the ball after an onside kick usually has it around the kicking team's 30.

Safeties are rare as it is. In a close game in the fourth quarter, I think the winning team is more likely to intentionally take a safety. Up by 6 (and sometimes more) and backed up to their one, teams will sometimes take the safety rather than risk a blocked punt.

Having said that, I *think* Iowa did it against us in 1998. Michigan had a 10-9 lead late in the game, and their punt returner made the ill-advised decisions to both return the ball and to dance around in an attempt to get a little more yardage. He was tackled in the end zone for a safety and I believe they tried on an onside kickoff afterwards.

Edit: Yes. See the sequence starting at about 8:25.




October 19th, 2012 at 8:58 PM ^

There was a Monday night NFL game between the Patriots and Broncos in '03 in which the Patriots were trailing by 1 late in the game and had to punt out of the back of their own endzone. Rather than give the Broncos excellent field position, Belichick decided to take an intentional safety so he could kick the ball off. The Patriots' defense stopped the Broncos and got the ball back, and Brady led one one of his many game-winning drives. 

In the 2007 WVU-Pitt game (a.k.a., Rich Rod's last game as coach of WVU, a.k.a., the "Butterfly Effect" game that ended up changing both the future of Michigan Football and the future of Les Miles' career), Pitt had to run a fourth down play deep in its own territory with a 13-7 lead and nine seconds left on the clock. They couldn't take a knee because that would have resulted in a change of posession and given WVU a legitimate shot to win. So Wannstedt had his punter backpedal into the endzone and scramble around until time had expired. When the clock hit 0:00, he ran out of the back of the endzone and took the safety, resulting in the 13-9 final score. That was a little more risky because the punter could have fumbled the ball in the endzone. Wannstedt probably should have taken a delay of game penalty first so the punter wouldn't have had to scramble a bit before stepping out. 

Forward to 6:10. Also, for kicks, check out the all-too-familiar anguished expressions on Rich Rod's face. Who would have thought that this game would throw such a huge monkey wrench in his career path?  



October 19th, 2012 at 3:14 PM ^

I dont have enough points to post a topic, so I will just put this here.  Did anyone just see Outside the Lines?  They just reaired a 1996 ESPN special talking about "Smash for Cash", a player incentive program in the NFL, and how it relates to the NO bounty scandal.

In the 1996 special, they talked at lengths about GERG Robinsons use of a stuffed beaver as a motivational tool in the NFL.  They were saying that the beaver is "the most diligint and hard working animal in the world" and that is why he used it.

Very odd place to all of a sudden get an explanation for the stuffed beaver on the side line.  Anyone else already know that?


October 19th, 2012 at 3:38 PM ^

semblance of rational thought behind it.

Gerg: "hey Rich, beavers work really hard, I want to use one on the sidelines to motivate players."

RR: "yeah, heck, they're even brown like Wolverines. Good call."

Gerg: "hey, I have an idea for a song you can sing at the banquet too."


October 19th, 2012 at 3:21 PM ^

I agree...go up 9.  2 scores less than a minute. If you're considering crazy things happening in that scenario, they are just as likely to happen in any other scenario.  Not a bad coaching move, but I doubt either move would've been wrong



October 19th, 2012 at 7:17 PM ^

Nope, it was the right call. If you decline the penalty and take over on downs, the game is over after you take a knee once or twice. If you accept the penalty and take the kickoff, the game is over after you field an onside kick and then take a knee once or twice. Easy choice. 


October 19th, 2012 at 5:25 PM ^

Well.  The Lions were down 14 with a minute to go when they scored twice and sent it into overtime.  Earlier this year, in fact.  So, however slim the odds are, it can happen.  Better to just remove all doubt and kneel the clock out.


October 19th, 2012 at 6:13 PM ^

It was the right call, IMO. They got the ball on downsn no matter what and that negates ANY risk (regardless of amount) of some strange historical comeback or more likely an injury. Smart decision and one I don't see why people were so perplexed by.


October 19th, 2012 at 7:33 PM ^

The only reason it was perplexing is because of the possibility that the video review could have changed the spot and given the Seahawks the inch or two they needed for a first down. A lot of people who were confused by the call didn't realize that Harbaugh would have had the option to reverse his earlier decision and accept the penalty if the video review had given Seattle a first down.