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Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Around the NFC West: Parsing Harbaugh

By Mike Sando

Those following along here Tuesday know San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith needed one more completed pass against Arizona to qualify for an all-time single-game record for completion percentage.



Smith completed 18 of 19 attempts. The 94.7 percent rate was a record for players with at least 15 attempts, but the NFL requires at least 20 attempts for quarterbacks to qualify for official inclusion in its record book.

Reports Tuesday left the impression the 49ers were pressing the NFL to change Michael Crabtree's rushing attempt to a pass reception. I'm not sure that is the case, however.

Coach Jim Harbaugh, when asked about the play following his news conference Tuesday, said the play was "definitely a pass."

Did that mean Harbaugh had reviewed the play and determined Smith had thrown a forward pass? The video evidence simply wouldn't support such a contention. What Harbaugh could have meant, in my view, is that the 49ers had called a pass play in the huddle. This was a designed pass, whether or not the ball traveled past the line of scrimmage.

The latter explanation would line up more cleanly with the video evidence.

More interesting, I think, is whether the NFL might change a 7-yard penalty into a 7-yard completed pass.

Officials had flagged the Arizona Cardinals for defensive pass interference on Smith's first attempt, which came on a second-and-4 play. A penalty in that situation would negate the play for statistical purposes. But if Mario Manningham caught the pass, it is possible the NFL could credit the 49ers with a completed pass on the play. There would have been no advantage in accepting a penalty for a 7-yard spot foul on second-and-4.

In looking at that play again, however, it appears as though officials never gave the 49ers a choice to accept or decline the penalty. That could indicate officials determined Manningham did not catch the ball.

The NFL office and anyone else weathering Hurricane Sandy's fallout have more pressing concerns than a potential passing record, of course. But we'll follow up on this one as more information becomes available.