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Why Did Jim Harbaugh Take the Ball Instead of a Safety at the End of the Game?

One of the most bizarre gambling-related endings to an NFL game you’ll see this season: With San Francisco leading 13-6 in the final minute, and Seattle facing 4th down from its goalmouth, Russell Wilson completed a pass that was just short of the 1st down. There was a flag on the play. Clipping Chop Block in the end zone on Seattle, resulting in a safety. San Francisco 15, Seattle 6. The crowd roared. Any fan who took San Francisco -8 (me included) was thrilled!

But wait! Jim Harbaugh declined the penalty. He declined points. You never take points off the board … but Jim Harbaugh did just that. Instead of making the Seahawks kickoff – Seattle would have had to attempt an onside kick, obviously, but without the use of a tee – Harbaugh took the ball around the San Francisco 20 and had Alex Smith take two knees to end the game. Pete Carroll didn’t try any Greg Schiano funny business. San Francisco didn’t cover.

The reaction on twitter was wild, as you might imagine.

Vegas luminary Todd Fuhrman:

ESPN’s Bill Simmons:

Then the question became: Did taking the ball and two knees actually increase San Francisco’s odds of winning? Pro Football Talk said this: “the percentages suggest a greater chance of winning via two knees out of victory formation.” I only saw the numbers one place:

Maybe the Seahawks could recover an onside kick! (No tee allowed; last time that happened was, according to this guy, 1980.) Score a long TD, then recover another onside kick and kick a field goal! All in less than :45!

Last argument for why San Francisco wouldn’t take the points: Jim Harbaugh wanted to protect his “hands team” from injury on the onside kick (or two).

The other side to that argument? One nobody has brought up is points in a tiebreaker situation. Maybe two points are the difference between a division title in the NFC West … and missing the playoffs? It is 7th on this list. [UPDATE: As a reader notes ... fumbled snaps do happen late in games. See Rivers last year vs. the Chiefs.]

And then there’s the seedy gambling side of things, which is a joy to talk and speculate about (as I did with Scott Van Pelt this morning), but nobody deep down truly believes anything nefarious was afoot, no matter how competitive “what’s your deal?” Harbaugh is.

Right?

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