Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers lost a valuable timeout when coach Mike Nolan unsuccessfully challenged the Eagles' 38-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter Sunday. The play was a reviewable play, according to the league, although at least one question persists.
First, let's go to the rule book (pdf), which describes as reviewable these plays:
"A field goal or Try attempt that crosses below or above the crossbar, inside or outside the uprights when it is lower than the top of the uprights, or touches anything"
"A field goal or Try attempt that crosses above either upright without touching anything" is a non-reviewable play.
I asked the league office for a clarification on the specific play in question. Was it reviewable? Was the play in question actually reviewed? If so, on what basis? Was the referee compelled to tell Nolan whether the play was reviewable? Here is what a league spokesman said:
"On the play in question, the official underneath ruled that the field goal had gone inside the uprights and not over, thus making it a reviewable play. There was no indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call on the field."
Nolan wanted referee Ron Winter to let him know if the play was reviewable before the 49ers risked losing a timeout. Here is what Nolan said, as quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle:
"I challenged it not knowing if it's above or below [the upright]. I asked him if it's challengeable and he said, 'It really doesn't matter now that you threw the flag.' They have to correct that. There's got to be some kind of signal that says it's not only good but it's not challengeable, or it is. Obviously, that didn't cost us the game, but it's something they've got to fix."
The league didn't immediately say whether a referee should inform the coach about whether a play could be reviewed. However, I think it's incumbent upon the head coach to specify what he wants to challenge. Referees can't necessarily be responsible for that.
Update: Referees do routinely tell coaches whether a play can be reviewed; it happened to Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt in Week 6 when he asked about challenging the first potential fumble involving Tony Romo.
The question becomes whether the officials were correct in determining that the ball did not sail above the uprights. Once the official determined the ball did not sail above the uprights, this became a reviewable play. NFL.com has the video here. The play in question shows up about 67 seconds into the highlights.