End of an era for the Pack?

Call it 'The Catch II:' Owens' grab helps Niners beat Pack

Green Bay at San Francisco

  Sunday, Jan. 3 11:46pm ET
Instant replay comes back to haunt Holmgren
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mike Holmgren rose up against the NFL's instant replay plan for the playoffs, and he's lived to regret it.

It very well could have salvaged the Green Bay Packers' season Sunday.

Millions of fans across the country got to see Jerry Rice in slow motion as he fumbled on San Francisco's game-winning touchdown drive in the 49ers' thrilling 30-27 wild-card victory over the Packers at 3Com Park.

 Mike Holmgren
Mike Holmgren probably regrets being against instant replay in the playoffs.

But the officials, who ruled no fumble, didn't get to see it again.

With time running out, Rice caught his first pass of the game, a 6-yard reception on second-and-10 from the Green Bay 47 with about 40 seconds remaining.

Packers linebacker Bernardo Harris and rookie nickel back Scott McGarrahan stripped the ball and Harris pounced on it.

The Packers began celebrating their fourth straight playoff victory over the 49ers and a trip to face the Atlanta Falcons in the second round.

But line judge Jeff Bergman said Rice never fumbled, and although field judge Kevin Mack had a better view, he didn't overrule his colleague.

And, four plays later, Steve Young hit Terrell Owens between three defenders for the winning 25-yard touchdown with three seconds and no timeouts left.

"That was clearly a fumble," Packers general manager Ron Wolf fumed in the hushed locker room. "We clearly recovered. The game's over.

"It's tough to lose no matter how you do it. But when you make a play in a championship game and it's not awarded to you, there's something wrong with the whole system. It's something that has to be addressed," Wolf said.

The players said they were robbed by a bad call at the worst time.

"Absolutely," strong safety LeRoy Butler said. "But he's Jerry Rice and I can't comment on the referees or I'll get fined."

Holmgren was asked if he thought Rice got star treatment on the play.

"I would hope not," he said.

"They told me from upstairs that it was a fumble," Holmgren added. "You hope that over the course of a season those plays will even out, but I wish they would have called that. Then the game would have been over."

Quarterback Brett Favre, who threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman with 1:56 left to put the Packers ahead 27-23, said he felt like victory was stolen from him.

"I thought the one play was a fumble and we recovered," Favre said. "Somebody said the replay showed that. But we can sit here and make excuses all day ..."

Harris was certain it was a legitimate fumble recovery, "but there's always questionable calls in a football game and you just have to live with them."

Or die with them.

McGarrahan said the point is academic, anyway.

"I don't know if it was a fumble," he said. "But I know one thing -- we didn't get the ball -- so I guess not."

Wolf said instant replay is an absolute necessity to restore respect to the league that has gotten a black eye from bad calls for the last two months.

"We're for instant replay and we'll always be for it," he said. "Because it's obvious that something within the working mechanism that governs our game is not working. And that's the correct call.

"So, why not use the tools that will enable us to make sure that the team that really and truly wins the game wins the game?"

The officials didn't have instant replay Sunday in large part because Wolf's coach, Holmgren, as co-chair of the league's competition committee, helped kill the idea last month.

"We had a chance to do it," Holmgren said several weeks ago when the league floated the idea of bringing instant replay back for the playoffs after officials' mistakes played a major part in deciding three games late in the season. Holmgren was leader of the pro-replay forces last March, when it failed by two votes.

The first game was the infamous Thanksgiving coin toss to start overtime in the Pittsburgh-Detroit game. Four days later, the officials made what the league conceded were two bad calls late in the game against Buffalo that gave New England a victory.

The third mistake came a week later, when the officials gave the New York Jets a 32-31 win over Seattle by ruling that Vinny Testaverde had crossed the goal line on a fourth-down quarterback draw.

As a result, the NFL floated the idea of instant replay for the playoffs, a good public relations move that was rejected by its rule-making competition committee by a 7-1 vote.

Instant replay has a good chance of returning for next season.

But it couldn't help Holmgren and the Packers keep their season alive Sunday.

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