NFL referee Bill Leavy has admitted that offsetting unnecessary roughness penalties from Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley were incorrectly assessed Sunday, a mistake San Francisco capitalized on for a touchdown.
UPDATE: Monday, Sept. 9, at 2:35 p.m. ET
Via ESPN.com's staff, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports Bill Leavy has been downgraded following yesterday's blunder during the Packers and 49ers' premier matchup and passes along potential long-term ramifications:
The NFL downgraded referee Bill Leavy, whose crew gave the San Francisco 49ers two third-down plays in the first half of their victory over the Green Bay Packers, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
NFL officials are judged and graded every week, and are often downgraded for issues. In the end, egregious mistakes can draw fines or cost officials assignments in the playoffs or Super Bowl.
---End of update---
As noted by USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Matthews was assessed an initial 15-yard penalty after he shoved 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the ground well after Kaepernick had scrambled out of bounds, two yards short of a 3rd-and-6 conversion.
Staley, incensed by the manner Matthews went after his quarterback, immediately ran over to the Packers linebacker and engaged in a shoving match. Players from both teams soon joined in, with referees and fellow players having to separate the feuding sides.
After the skirmish was broken up, Leavy assessed two penalties—one to Matthews for the hit and another to Staley for his retaliation. He announced on the field that the two penalties would offset and then incorrectly awarded the 49ers a chance to repeat their 3rd-and-6 try. Because both fouls happened after the play concluded, San Francisco should have faced a 4th-and-2 situation.
Leavy acknowledged his mistake after the 34-28 win for San Francisco.
"The down should have counted," Leavy said. "The penalties were both dead ball, and they should have offset at the spot where the runner went out of bounds. And it would have been fourth down."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passed along a statement from an NFL spokesman regarding the play: “After reviewing the play, Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino determined that Joe Staley should not have been penalized.”
The aftermath of the call was immediate: Kaepernick connected with Anquan Boldin for a touchdown pass on his second try at 3rd-and-6, giving the 49ers a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
While it's impossible to know how the game would have changed had San Francisco kicked a field goal—not a guarantee with the way its offense was humming—it's safe to say things could have gone differently. The four-point swing would have put the 49ers down 28-27 on their final offensive possession rather than ahead 31-28.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn't seem to think the call made a difference, though.
"Obviously, the play went into another sequence of plays where there were two fouls called," McCarthy said. "I don't really think that even factored in the game. So, if that's your criticism, then that's fine."
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh disagreed with penalizing Staley in the first place. He pegged Matthews as the aggressor in both instances, saying that Staley was doing what "we coach him to do" in protecting Kaepernick.
Maiocco relayed Harbaugh's thoughts on Staley's involvement:
I watched it. Joe did exactly what we coach him to do. When somebody’s taking a cheap shot or trying to do something after the whistle, we teach him to lock up. He did that and then Matthews throws two punches at him.
The officials had their explanation, and maybe saw some other things that I didn’t see, but yeah, I thought for it to even be offsetting, I didn’t see it that way from my vantage point.
Would the result have changed if Leavy made the correct call?
While Leavy will undoubtedly draw the ire of Packers fans for helping put Green Bay in that 0-1 hole, it's nowhere near his most notable blown call. The longtime NFL referee acknowledged in 2010 that he made major mistakes in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
The most infamous of those plays occurred when an incorrect holding call was made on Seattle offensive tackle Sean Locklear, which took a Matt Hasselbeck completion to the Steelers 1-yard line and a possible touchdown opportunity off the board. Hasselbeck would throw an interception on the next play.
Leavy, an NFL official since 1995, was also part of a controversial call in the 2011 postseason when he ruled Packers receiver Greg Jennings was down by contact on a play where he appeared to fumble just before his calf hit the ground.
Neither team has much time to reflect on what happened in this burgeoning rivalry. The Packers will look to avoid an 0-2 start against the defending NFC East champion Washington Redskins, while the 49ers hit the road for their first of two critical games against the Seattle Seahawks.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: