SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan figured out why linebacker Dre Greenlaw was given an unnecessary roughness penalty following a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Chicago 49ers quarterback. Los Angeles Chargers Justin Herbert late in the first half of Sunday night’s game.
But even after his side emerged with a 22-16 win to move to 5-4, Shanahan said he didn’t think Greenlaw should have been sent off and was still puzzled as to why. that decision had been made.
“It actually blew my mind,” Shanahan said. “I understand the penalty. I completely understand at the third scorer he was dropping his shoulder but I have to learn what it is. I understand how it is with penalties and all that because I think he hit his helmet…but I thought there must be some intent and something unnecessary, and it was a big play there.For us to lose Greenlaw for the whole game, that made me really shocked. So hopefully they can teach us that so we can understand why we lost one of our players.”
Greenlaw’s ejection came with about 30 seconds left in the first half after the hit on Herbert. In third-and-six at San Francisco’s 40, Herbert climbed up the middle to escape the pressure. As the quarterback tried to dive, Niners safety Jimmie Ward hit him from behind, propelling him towards Greenlaw, who was closing in on Herbert’s right.
Greenlaw’s helmet collided with Herbert’s as Herbert fell to the Niners’ 35. The officials immediately flagged for the hit, but spent some time deliberating before choosing to apply the penalty and eject Greenlaw.
According to Walt Anderson, senior vice president of refereeing for the NFL, while the penalty is called on the field, the ejection decision comes from the referee offices in New York. When Greenlaw lowered his head and made forced contact, it was then up to New York officials to determine if the action was egregious.
Anderson said “timing, how the player had the opportunity to make other choices and make a different decision” are all factors in deciding if something is egregious.
Anderson said that from the officials’ point of view, Ward’s initial hit made Herbert a “down runner”.
“He was down,” Anderson said. “Any time [Greenlaw] lowered his head and forced contact, the runner was already on the ground. His knee had already fallen and he was tackled.”
After the hit, Herbert went to the sidelines and entered the blue tent to be assessed for a concussion as substitute Chase Daniel handled the final three offensive snaps of the half for the Chargers (5-4 ).
Herbert cleared concussion protocol at halftime and returned to the game. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and he had five carries for 22 yards.
Greenlaw, who was returning from a calf injury, led the Niners with seven tackles when he was ejected. Azeez Al-Shaair, who was in his first game back from injured reserve with a sprained knee, replaced Greenlaw and had three tackles.
“He’s a tough player to lose,” Niners safety Talanoa Hufanga said of Greenlaw. “He’s such an energetic, aggressive guy. A guy who goes out there and flies to the ball, makes the plays he makes. But if you look at his replacement in Azeez, he’s like him. They’re guys very similar who can just run for the ball, play his game and be quick and physical.”
Greenlaw is subject to additional discipline from the league after further review of the game. That will likely include a fine and more penalties, up to and including a suspension, according to Anderson.
“It’s a tough game,” San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa said. “Things happen really fast there. I know him. He’s not trying to hurt anyone. He’s just trying to make a play. That’s what it is.”
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