Updated Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 08:31 PM
The NFL didn't apologize to Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor for the mistake its officials made last Sunday.
Instead, the league declined to fine him.
And really that is the perfect commentary on the completely backward approach that has been taken with regard to ruling on hits to the head of a defenseless receiver.
Officials operate out of a presumption of guilt, instructed that when in doubt, throw the flag out. You think that's an exaggeration? It's not. Here is, verbatim, what the league tells its officials:
"Whenever a game official is confronted with a potential unnecessary-roughness situation and is in doubt about calling a foul, he should lean toward safety and not hesitate to throw the flag."
Think about that for a second and decide if that's not the most un-American thing you've ever heard. When unsure, opt for punishment? Where else do we use that premise in this country? Should you get a ticket because it looks like you might have been speeding?
Yet that is exactly the protocol spelled out by the NFL. And that is exactly what happened when Chancellor hit 49ers tight end Vernon Davis in the first quarter with a concussion-inducing hit that was as vicious as it was legal.
Yup. That's right. Completely kosher. Chancellor hit Davis in his chest. Not only that, Chancellor led with his shoulder, not his helmet, and if you've got a problem with that play, you've got a problem with tackle football.
The result? First and goal for the 49ers as multiple officials threw flags because it looked so very bad. One week later, Chancellor was not fined, which was the only sign from the NFL that there was no problem with the play.
Forget for a second that the 49ers' possession in question resulted in a blocked field-goal attempt the Seahawks returned for a touchdown, and imagine if that play had changed the tide of the game. How would you feel then?
It's important to ask because the playoffs begin next week and the league has created an environment where its officials are being encouraged to make potentially game-changing calls based on a hunch.
For all the time that has been spent discussing the fines and suspensions resulting from the league's emphasis on hits to the head of a defenseless receiver, the impact on a game's outcome has been neglected. The fact the NFL instructs its officials to err on the side of penalizing the defense is nothing short of ridiculous.
Officials should call a penalty only if they're sure what has happened. That was the resolution that came from Sean Locklear being called for holding late in Super Bowl XL. That was a flag that changed the tide of the game, one that was clearly wrong in retrospect. Yet seven years later, here is the league telling its officials to throw a flag if it looks like there might have been a foul.
It doesn't have to be this way.
The league has the benefit of instant replay in doling out discipline. It can slow things down and look at what actually happened before deciding what discipline is warranted. It does not have to rely upon officials trying to determine the point of impact in real time.
The league has said — repeatedly — that penalties and fines are not sufficient to eliminate the kind of kill shots it wants out of the game, so maybe the league should rely upon replay review to determine who should be punished and how much. Why force an official to estimate where a player was struck?
Erring on the side of caution is a good way to drive a car, but it's no way to officiate a game. At least not in a contact sport like the NFL.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ELAINE THOMPSON / AP
Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor unloads on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis during last Sunday's game at CenturyLink Field.