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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers had momentum and field position on their side when Trent Taylor made a sprawling catch at the Los Angeles Rams' 39-yard line.
The 49ers, down by two points, were nearing field-goal range on the first play after the two-minute warning. But the momentum was quickly halted.
Taylor was called for offensive pass interference as he broke to the outside against the coverage of Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. TV replays were inconclusive whether Taylor extended his right arm to push off.
Controversial Offensive Pass Interference Call on Trent Taylor pic.twitter.com/vn6HXZOf3H— Heart of NFL (@HeartofNFL) September 22, 2017
“I ran the route the way it was called, the way that I always run it,” Taylor told NBC Sports Bay Area afer the game. “Felt good about it, and it was a great play call. But the ref’s decision on that, that’s nothing I can comment on. So I’ll just leave it as it is.”
The penalty set back the 49ers 10 yards. Brian Hoyer’s third-and-20 pass was incomplete, and he was sacked on fourth down to end any hope of a 49ers comeback victory.
“In that time of the game I would think you would let people play,” said Hoyer, prefacing his remarks with his intention to not say anything would warrant a fine.
“But I haven’t seen it. I have to go and watch the film. You know what, you don’t want to leave it up to the refs anyways. You hope you make a few plays earlier in the game to change the outcome. If it comes down to that, then that’s what it is. That’s what the guys job is to do.”
Taylor caught three passes for 32 yards, including his first NFL touchdown. He was also involved in another key play just moments earlier as the 49ers sought to tie the game. Hoyer’s two-point conversion pass attempt was tipped by Los Angeles cornerback Troy Hill and intercepted by defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said Taylor was the third option on the play. Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin were both well-covered on their inside-breaking routes. Taylor initially had separation against Hill, but that was a problem for the 49ers. The route called for Taylor to cut it back inside. Hoyer and Taylor teamed up for a touchdown on the exact same route on the other side earlier in the game against Hill.
“They got lucky and guessed the play,” Taylor said. “They were on it, so there was nothing we could do about it.”
This is how far the 49ers came in one evening: They played well enough to convince their fans that the officials screwed them.
I am not here to take a side on this. You play in a league with indecipherable rules, you take your chances with the officiating. Besides, if you want to avoid getting whistled out of a game, don’t give up 41 points.
Worse, don’t score 39 and lose. That’s happened only 40 times since 1940 out of nearly 15,000 games, so that’s an achievement in and of itself.
But the complaining is a sign that, for the first time since 2013 perhaps, the 49ers mattered enough to their shrinking audience to haul out the old “Jeff Triplette did us dirty” meme.
That is significant progress in a non-technical way, because as the shots of the stands have showed us, the modern 49er fan is more used to walking (as in out) than talking (as in smack). They are not by and large interested in the gestation period -- they want to see the baby.
And, rarely for the NFL, the 49ers’ greatest eras did not come with long rebuilds. They happened almost in a flash. Bill Walsh was 2-14 and 6-10 before the heavens opened in 1981. Jim Harbaugh went 13-3 after eight non-winning/stagnant seasons which didn’t come close to being an actual structured rebuild.
In other words, around here, patience is for saps, the journey is not entertaining on its own, and progress is declared only upon arrival.
The real world, though, is different, and though everything about Thursday’s loss speaks to advancement here/regression there and has in no way a relationship to the 12-9 loss to Seattle a week ago, blind officials are a nice cheap way to pretend that there is. Nothing is more satisfying for a chronic loser than to say, “We would have won if those thieving bastards blah-blah-blah.”
It is also a dose of empty calories, but if you can’t have something nourishing, a bag of candy will do in a pinch.
In any event, the 49ers are 0-3, but good enough to moan that they can be unlucky or cruelly treated. It may not be progress inside the building, but it is outside, and judging by the sea of empty stadium seats, the 49ers need all that they can get.