NFL: Refs missed penalty in controversial play, but Seattle victory stands
September 25th, 2012
06:00 PM ET

NFL: Refs missed penalty in controversial play, but Seattle victory stands

Replacement referees missed a penalty that would have rendered moot a controversy over whether a Seattle Seahawks receiver caught a game-winning touchdown pass a moment later, the National Football League said Tuesday.

The Green Bay Packers would have won the game had offensive pass interference been called against Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, but the missed penalty wasn't reviewable. So the officials' controversial on-field ruling that Tate subsequently scored a touchdown by having joint possession of the ball with a Packers defender stands.

The touchdown - which over the last day has become a symbol of player and fan frustration over the NFL's replacement referees - gave Seattle a 14-12 win. "The result of the game is final," the NFL said in a news release Tuesday.

Photos: Blown calls

The NFL also said that it supports a referee's decision, after he reviewed the play Monday night, that no indisputable evidence existed to overturn the on-field ruling that Tate scored.

Commentators on ESPN, which showed the "Monday Night Football" game, questioned whether Tate really caught the ball, penalty or not. The play has sparked a full-open revolt by fans and players over replacement referees, who are standing in for officials that the NFL has locked out during a labor dispute.

"Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs," Packers guard T.J. Lang tweeted minutes after the game ended, one in a series of profanity-laced tweets accusing the referees of taking the game from his team.

Here's how the play unfolded: With seconds remaining and Seattle down 12-7, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a deep pass into the end zone. Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings went up for the ball, and referees eventually ruled - after officials gave competing signals - that both possessed the ball simultaneously. Under NFL rules, simultaneous possession goes to the offense, so the officials ruled the play a touchdown for Tate with time expired.

Replays, however, showed two potential problems: First, Tate appears to shove Packers defender Sam Shields in the back while the ball is in the air, a move that normally would draw an offensive pass interference penalty. Second, the footage appears to show Jennings first having both arms wrapped around the ball while Tate had one arm on it, so simultaneous possession appears questionable. The ball eventually was pulled tight to Jennings' chest.

The referees reviewed the play, and let it stand, giving Seattle the win.

The NFL essentially said Tuesday that the Packers should have won because Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference, "which would have ended the game" with the Packers ahead.

However, a missed offensive pass interference call is not reviewable, the NFL said, so nothing could be done about that part of the play when it was reviewed by referee Wayne Elliott.

As for the ruling on the catch, the NFL said: "Eliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood."

"The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review," the NFL said Tuesday.

Discussion of the call virtually took over Twitter in the United States and sparked rising calls for the NFL to quickly settle its labor dispute with officials.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy declined to specifically address the call in his post-game news conference but said later that he had "never seen anything like that in all my years in football."

See the play in photos | Week 3: Photos

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers called the officiating "awful."

Coming away with a close win, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was less critical.

"From what I understand from the officials, it was a simultaneous catch, that's how they called it," Carroll told reporters. "Tag goes to the runner. Good call."

But he said it's sill time for the dispute to end.

"It's a very, very complex process to handle these games and make the decisions, and there's nothing easy about it," he said. "And it takes years and years of experience to pull it off properly and in a timely fashion and to keep the flow of the game alive and all of that, and it's just time for it to be over."

"The league deserves it," Carroll said. "Everybody deserves it."

Controversy over the replacement officials has been simmering since the preseason. A series of missed or muffed calls has riled coaches, players and fans.

On Thursday, the NFL Players Association sent a letter to league owners saying the decision to hire replacement referees "has led to a deteriorating of order, safety and integrity."

"This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build," the union wrote.

It's also affecting gamblers. Betters lost an estimated $150 million on the call, gambling expert R.J. Bell said on the gaming website Pregame.com.

Bell also writes that home crowds seem to be influencing officials and that scoring is up from Las Vegas expectations.

The outcry for a resolution appeared to be growing after the Monday night game.

On Tuesday, the website FootballZebras.com, which tracks officiating in the NFL, said the Monday night call was "beyond the tipping point, this is the drowning point."

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney got into the game on Tuesday, saying he would introduce legislation against holding sporting events officiated by replacement referees.

"This past weekend in the NFL has not only made a mockery of a great sport, but shined a very bright light on how important fully trained and professional officiating is to player safety," Sweeney said in a statement released by his office Tuesday morning. "We wouldn't allow a factory or construction site to operate without fully trained supervisors on hand to ensure the safety of employees. Why should we do anything differently when the job site is a playing field?"

Discussion of the game also accounted for at least four of the top 10 topics on Twitter in the United States, where everyday fans and celebrities appeared united in their frustration. Even President Obama weighed in on the issue.

Does this ruin football for you? Share your commentary with CNN iReport.

Stephen A. Smith, never one to keep his opinion close to the vest, let it fly on Twitter throughout the end of the game.

According to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, the two sides in the labor dispute are about $3.3 million apart.

Here's a look at some more of the reaction on Twitter:

That last one might not be an official account.

Regarding the NFL's labor dispute with its regular officials, sticking points include salary issues and changes to the officials' retirement program.

What do you think of the final play, of the game or of the replacement officials?

Click here for the best photos from Week 3 of the NFL season.

soundoff (2,120 Responses)
  1. aren

    Good thing they weren't playing in green bay or all hell would have broke loose in the stands and people would have probably got hurt

    September 25, 2012 at 7:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich2012

      It wouldn't have mattered that these refs who know they are under scrutiny....reviewed the play in slow motion over and over...before making the right call...albeit very disappointing call for Green Bay fans...I am sure the Green Bay fans would have also demanded that the refs completely ignore NFL rule about "tie possession going to the offensive player". Maybe in future games the NFL rules should be totally ignored and no matter what the slow motion video evidence shows...the call should always favor the most outraged group of fans.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. AL

    Regarding the infamous ending to the Packers vs Seahawks game, what needs to be focused on is the fact that the seahawks' receiver (Tate) had his left had on the ball at the point of contact along with Jennings. The important thing here is that both players were IN THE AIR! Technically, at the point of contact the play was not dead. Now the question is did Tate got his right hand on the ball along with his left hand BEFORE they landed on the turf? In my opinion, it was a very close call, however the camera angles doesnt clearly show if Tate had his right hand on the ball or not.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      yes, you are clearly right. The fact that EVERY SINGLE ANALYST (you know, the ones that eat, drink and breathe this stuff and know the rules more in detail than many players) universally agree that this was NOT A TOUCHDOWN (and I am not a Packers fan, I love the Steelers). Watched in this morning, and it is definitely an interception. Glad you were here to clear it up, though.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Only problem with your comment is that there isn't one picture before, during or after the catch that shows Tate with the ball, there wasn't anything close about it.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich2012

      I am neither a Seahawk fan nor a Packer fan so I don't have a bias one way or the other. It looked as if the Seattle receiver both touched the ball first and seemed to have some kind of possession of the ball when he touched down in the end zone first....while the defender was still in the air and trying to struggle the ball away. Once the defender hit the ground he appeared to have better possession but the receiver still had his hands wrapped around the ball. It's not a question of control because the ball was controlled by both players and the Seattle player appeared to have possession when his feet touched...and the receiver didn't lose possession afterwards because both players had their hands on it all the way through the play.....tie goes to the offensive. If you are going to abide by the NFL rule that a tie possession goes to the offense this was a clear touchdown...no ifs ands or buts about it.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • NSL

      There is one thing that is definitive. You're not ever going to be an NFL official on the field or in the video booth. At full speed it was clearly an interception, and in slow motion it was even more clearly an interception, no matter what way you look at it.

      In the last few years NFL officiating has been far from impressive, but these replacements are consistently making calls that aren't there, missing important and obvious calls which are there, and too often fouling up the calls they are making, and these mistakes are single handedly deciding who wins and loses. The players and the plays are supposed to do that.

      I'm a soccer referee. I no longer to pro games as I'm too old to be fit enough to do a great job. I can tell you that a high school or low level college referee can't call an MLS or Premier League, or FIFA tournament game even close to adequately. Referees have to work their way up to the higher levels because the games are much faster and the decision making far more split second, and the players expectations are very different at the highest level of play. It's no different in football.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. Why Doyouneed2know

    Bad or questionable calls will not change the position of the NFL in the negotiations with the regular officials. As has been said many times already, the fans are still going to watch the games; a few may stop, but a few will also start watching just so they can chat with their friends about the officiating on Monday morning. Furthermore, when asked about a questionable call, the standard reply at post-game press conferences even among games officiated by the regular crews has been to say something about "how no one play cost us the game; we made many mistakes today that hurt our chances of winning today." Were the NFL to now say that officiating mistakes are costing teams wins would be an admission that mistakes by the regular crews also cost teams victories.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      You do realize that players and coaches are forbidden to make negative comments about the referees to the press? If they do so, they get fined.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Cox

      I am done watching NFL games for this season. I like to watch well played and well officiated games. I have better things to do than watch inept officiating that is clearly affecting the outcome of games and probably the season.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
    • upstateny

      These replacements ref's are dong the best they can. I wish people would blame the REAL reason the replacement ref's are there in the first place. I would rather have the replacements, I would rather have my team lose (ugh), than to cave into anyone's demands. It's a game, the players are getting paid, the people can watch their teams on TV or at the stadiums, the concession stands are thriving, etc. I do realize that these football players are getting beat up on the field every week to win it all and a bad call can definitely prevent that from happening. Look at this way...we all will have a REAL and LEGITIMATE reason why our team didn't make it to the Superbowl !?!? My opinion...let's support the replacement and fight agains union thugs.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. WNBA

    Dear NFL,

    Our refs are better than yours!

    Signed, WNBA

    September 25, 2012 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. semper fi

    Complete break down of control. Sandlot football but still paying full price. This is worse than preseason football. Best Football is played on Friday HS and Saturday College anyway.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Right on

      Right on

      September 25, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  6. GregJackson

    You know what? The NFL players are getting exactly what they deserve. Why are they crossing a picket line to play? Where is there union loyalty? They could end this lockout today if they would stand up for their union brothers. Until then, I have no sympathy for them.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      Not sure if my previous comment got eaten or is simply lagged. Either way, I'll rephrase my statement.

      The NFL has exemptions to certain laws that prevent the refs and the players from supporting one another without retributive actions from the league.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
    • GregJackson

      Regardless, jayman, if the players stuck together and refused to take the field until the issue was settled, the owners would have to take action. They can't and won't fire all of their NFL stars over something like this, unless they are truly dense. Yes, there are tons of players who would love to replace them, but the talent pool isn't deep enough to replace the entire NFL with quality players, or the USFL would have taken off. If the players are that concerned about their safety, the integrity of the games, etc., they are the ones with the power to end this now.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. James Dills

    I think it's fine. It's just a game and people shouldn't take it so seriously. The official referees shouldn't hog all the action themselves, and let the less experienced referees play. I think the players are OK with it.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      The "official" referees are the ones who were doing pee-wee games fifteen and twenty years ago. Imagine any industry where experience was required that suddenly dropped the requirements.

      You couldn't do underwater welding until you've spend years with the torch and learning how to dive safely. You could be a race day pit crewman until you've spent years with the wrench.
      You couldn't play professional football until you've spent years playing high school and college ball.

      The regular refs are the best in the world at their job. An average team has around a hundred years of experience between them. When a new ref joins the ranks, he is added to an established team and trained further. These replacements have 3 weeks of experience at the pro level. Many of them never even coached at the higher college levels because of the agreements those schools have with their personnel that prohibited them from leaving en masse to coach the NFL.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  8. Renee

    One of SEVERAL seriously bad calls by these replacement refs this season!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. GregJackson

    Sorry – their.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. Referee

    "Upon further review, the ball was clearly on a downward flight plan when it was touched and grabbed by the player from Green Bay. Therefore, the correct call is Goal-tending. Award points to Seattle. Game Set Match."

    September 25, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. AbusedFan

    How much money are they really arguing over?? Is it worth players being seriously injured due to the lack of calls for cheap shots, head hunting.... etc.? The season, so far, should help the negotiating position of the real refs. These replacements are just a complete joke and someone is going to get seriously injured.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      It's about $3.3 million over the life of the contract.

      DeAngelo Hall has offered to put up $2 million of his own money, and he figures just asking the guys in his locker room would get the rest.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • atcdude

      The replacement refs are not the ones taking the cheap shots and head shots at opponents, the players are. They know the rules and are operating outside of them just because they think they won't caught. Now that's what I call taking the high road.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Kbakken

      An NPR story that ran yesterday, said it would cost each NFL team to contribute 100k–a pittance when compared to the fact that the NFL is a several billion dollar industry. The commentator also said nothing would happen regarding the strike until the replacment refs made an "egregious call." I would say, last night fits to a T.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. David

    My high school basketball coach used to tell our team the following, which is applicable to all sports..."Never let the score stay close enough to where the officials can influence the outcome of the game".

    Packers... You didn't do your job.
    Patriots... You didn't do yours either.

    Stop whining!

    You lost!

    September 25, 2012 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Bubba Bo Bob Brain

      Actually, the Packers did do their job, they had the lead AND intercepted the pass that was incorrectly ruled a touchdown reception.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      According to a CHFF from 2009, a little over half of all regular season games are decided by 7 points or less. The trend was towards more games being decided by more than a a single touchdown.

      This year, so far, 32 games out of 48 have been decided by 7 points or less. 9 games this week.

      It's not just one play or one call determining the outcome of the game. Hits and fouls aren't being called properly, so the players are trying to police themselves with hits and fouls of their own. The games are getting out of hand, affecting every single play. Guys are worried about getting hurt, not playing their best football.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
    • jesuguru

      Your high school coach is not the arbiter of truth and wisdom.

      If it was your team losing by a touchdown or less because of a clearly blown call, and you're not indignant about it, question your fanhood.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • David

      You fail to grasp the wisdom.

      Blow the other team out, you don't have to worry about the refs.

      Simple as that....

      September 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Frank

    Yet another prime example of why UNIONS need to be disbanded! They should train all the new refs and FIRE THOSE WHO DEMAND their salaries! How much more ridiculous can it GET?

    Give me this much money in salary or we will walk off the job! Try that in the private sector. This is nothing short of EXTORTION by THUG UNIONS!

    September 25, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • GregJackson

      You do realize that this is a LOCKOUT, not a strike? Do you know and understand the difference? A lockout is when the owners/business refuses to allow the workers to return to work, even when they are willing. The OWNERS are the ones who are causing this. Learn the difference.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      Frank, I'm guessing that you are not aware of all of the facts here.

      The officials were "locked out", that means that the NFL removed them from their positions and replaced them because they were not willing to continue to negotiate a new agreement. Probably because they do not want to part with the $3.3 million, which is small in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars the league brings in. Think about this, if even only 200,000 fans were to pay just .84 cents per ticket, these salaries would be covered. But, there are a lot more than 200,000 fans at the games. In fact with all of the revenue generated this cost is so ridiculously low! i am not suggesting fans pay more but I am using this as an example to illustrate my point. How far has the wealthiest American's greed gone when player safety and the rules of the game can be comprimised so those with so much, can make more! Bashing unions does no one any good here. Lets stay focused on workplace safety and the integrity of the game.

      September 25, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. semper fi

    Forfeit this game.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. Beyond belief

    There were at least 5 missed or blown calls that influenced the final result. And I'm only considering the last few minutes of the game. This Season is lost. I am done. Of course I'm a Packer fan but I hate the NFL. Too many men in suits ruining the sport.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
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