Twitter Reacts to Questionable Penalty on 49ers’ Arden Key

Arden Key

Getty Arden Key wraps up Matt Ryan during the second quarter of the 49ers' 31-13 home win over the Falcons on Sunday, December 19.

Facing third-and-4 with the Atlanta Falcons marching into their territory, the San Francisco 49ers needed someone to end the second quarter drive and get to quarterback Matt Ryan.

Arden Key became that guy who snatched “Matty Ice” and plopped him to the Levi’s Stadium grass for the sack — but 15 yards got added on the visitor’s side.

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Why? Here was the play in question involving Key that occurred under the 4:50 mark:

Here’s the slow motion version:

Key jumped on the back of Ryan, then the weight of his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame forced the veteran quarterback into the grass for what was supposed to be a sack for the 49ers. But instead, the yellow marker came out of the back pocket of the nearby official.

“Personal foul, roughing the passer,” was heard loud and clear from the speakers. And the next thing heard loud and clear? The chorus of boos.

Two plays later, Ryan hit Russell Gage for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10.

Despite the call and the touchdown that was surrendered, the 49ers outscored the Falcons 21-3 the rest of the way, rolling to the 31-13 romp and moving to 8-6 overall.

But fans weren’t the only ones vocal about Key’s questionable roughing the passer call. There were some vocal Twitter users who reacted to the odd call.

Call was Called ‘Worst Ever’ by Ex-NFL Defensive Lineman

Anthony “Booger” McFarland knows a thing or two about sacking quarterbacks. The 2003 Super Bowl champion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and LSU Tiger standout snatched 22.5 sacks during his nine-year NFL career.

McFarland, now a college football commentator and ESPN personality, got blunt about his Twitter reaction to the penalty.

“The worst roughing the passer call ever in San Francisco on Arden Key,” was what McFarland tweeted.

The criticism didn’t stop with McFarland.

“That’s a brutal call against Arden Key. Laws of physics dictate that he can’t play that sack any differently,” came from the Twitter account of 49ers beat reporter for The Athletic David Lombardi.

“Arden Key with a textbook sack on third down that is somehow flagged for roughing the quarterback. Figures,” was what Rob Lowder of Blue Wire Pods posted.

“Soft NFL,” was the ending Twitter statement that came from San Jose Mercury News 49ers reporter Cam Inman.

But one more voice of criticism? It came from outside of social media, plus someone breaking down the call during the broadcast of the Falcons at 49ers game.

Retired NFL Official Disagreed With Ruling

Gene Steratore, who spent 15 years as an NFL ref, was another who sounded off on the Key 15-year-penalty.

“These are really difficult plays for the official and real difficult for a player like Arden Key. He just disengages from the block and he only has only one option and that is to make a diving lunge to try to get to the quarterback,” Steratore explained. “To me, in my opinion, this is just a defensive player making a last ditch effort to dive and tackle a quarterback. That’s a very hard play to penalize a defender on in my opinion.”

The next prominent person to question the call? The head coach of the 49ers Kyle Shanahan.

Key Has Been Rolling at DE

Despite the controversial ruling, Key delivered a breakout outing of two QB hits and one other sack — one that he wasn’t penalized for:

And Key has been on a tear by providing an extra edge rush jolt to the 49ers during their last minute playoff push.

But had it not been for that perplexing call, Key would’ve had his first career two-sack performance. Still, as Lombardi noted, Key has been played much differently, and much more impactful, for the ‘Niners.

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