The San Francisco 49ers were able to get back above .500 on the season with a win over the Chargers on Sunday night and did it without starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw for a majority of the game. The 25-year-old was ejected from the late in the second quarter due to a controversial helmet-to-helmet hit on Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
Herbert took a third-and-6 snap from the San Francisco 20-yard line and scrambled 5 yards up the field. As he was falling forward, the Chargers QB was hit on his left side by defensive back Jimmie Ward and then Greenlaw came in immediately after that, delivering a helmet-to-helmet blow. Officials then got together and after a discussion deemed that Greenlaw's hit enough to warrant disqualification.
Following the game, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he was caught off-guard by the ejection.
"It kind of blew my mind. I get the penalty, but I have to learn what that is. ... There had to be intent or something necessary. That really shocked me. Hopefully they can teach us so we can understand why we lost one of our players," Shanahan said.
At the time of that hit, there were roughly 30 seconds remaining in the first half. Because he needed to be evaluated for a concussion, Herbert was sidelined for the final three plays of the drive, thrusting Chase Daniel into the game at quarterback. With Daniel under center, the Chargers couldn't move the ball and ultimately settled for a field goal. Herbert then returned for the start of the second half.
Given the nature of how the hit occurred, the ejected did garner some criticism on social media. While it was helmet to helmet, it did not seem like Greenlaw could've done anything to avoid the contact as Herbert was hit by Ward into that position that set up the blow. Of course, there were also folks pointing out that this may have only warranted a disqualification due to it involving a quarterback. With that in mind, it is important to note that Herbert was not sliding at the time of the hit and instead diving forward, so was free to hit just as any other ball carrier would be in that situation.
In the aftermath of being ejected, Greenlaw posted "Free me" to his Instagram story.
While Greenlaw is a big piece to San Francisco's defense, they were able to pull off the win despite his absence and even shut out the Chargers over the final two quarters.