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As officiating errors make news, NFL tries to prove fairness

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs out of bounds as Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews dives for him during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs out of bounds as Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews dives for him during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs out of bounds as Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews dives for him during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs out of bounds as Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews dives for him during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs out of bounds as Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews dives for him during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs out of bounds as Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews dives for him during the second quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Reversing several centuries of accumulated wisdom, the NFL ruled yesterday that two wrongs sometimes do make a right.

How convenient is that?

Let’s begin with the one thing everyone agrees on: that referee Bill Leavy’s officiating crew blew an important call in the Green Bay at San Francisco game on Sunday. That much was clear moments after the play happened.

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews got whistled for launching himself at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he stepped out of bounds on a crucial third-down play in the second quarter. Then Leavy’s crew assessed a second personal foul against 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who rushed to the spot and climbed up into Matthews’s grille.

According to Rule 14, Section 4, Article 9, Item 2, the offsetting dead-ball penalties should have resulted in a 4th-and-2. Leavy incorrectly ruled a replay of 3rd-and-6.

Kaepernick took advantage of the extra snap to throw a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the 49ers ahead 14-7. They went on to win, 34-28. Leavy took the blame for his mistake immediately after the game, and the league acknowledged it in a statement less than 24 hours later.

Had things ended there, there would have been two coaches, two teams, their fan bases and who-knows-how-many-others complaining about the refs for a few days, and nothing more. People make mistakes. Most of us understand that and eventually move on.

That wasn’t good enough for the NFL. In addition to confirming Leavy’s mistake, the league went out of its way yesterday to note that the crew actually made two mistakes.

According to NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, the ref made a hash of Rule 14, Section 4 … AND the foul against Staley should not have been called. Following Blandino’s logic, the 49ers should have had first-and-goal at the 3, an even better deal than the one they got. Following his implication – that Leavy got the call so wrong that he actually got it kinda right – is a much bigger task.

I get where it comes from. Plenty of businesses strive for perfection, but the NFL is one of the few with the money and muscle to maintain the facade even in those all-too-frequent moments of imperfection. That’s why everything connected to the game is choreographed and then calibrated, from flyovers at stadiums to the length of ankle socks on players’ feet.

The NFL rulebook runs 112 pages, including diagrams and hand-signal illustrations, and let’s be honest, sometimes some guys are going to get the pages mixed up. That’s all that’s happened here, and the league apparently put a big fat checkmark on Leavy’s report card as a reminder.

The league’s all’s-well-that-ends-well storyline is too clever by half, but it’s already making the rounds. Some are suggesting the 49ers win proves it, others that because it happened in the second quarter, it wasn’t decisive, still others that Green Bay got cheated and so on.

There’s another bit of accumulated wisdom that’s been around for some time, too. It’s been called karma, the bounce of the ball, the breaks evening out, or more grandly, reaping what you sow.

And if the NFL is going to get into the business of deciding week after week what should have been, instead of what happened, trust me, it could turn out to be a very long season.

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