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

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, 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. Brandon Taylor

    I'm boycotting the rest of the NFL season, and even if the Dallas Cowboys make it to the Super Bowl, you will NOT catch me dead watching that stupid game!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich2012

      I just watched the replay of this call again in real time and in slow motion. I have seen it over and over now more than ten times. There is no question that the refs made the right call. The Seattle receiver touched the ball in the air first and appeared to have control of the ball when his feet touched down in the end zone. While the defender did appear to gain better control of the ball afterwards the receiver had already touched down with possession before the defender touched down. There is no question both players had possession of the ball when they hit the ground and the Seattle player had possession when he touched first. This is exactly why the video review was in Seattle's favor. Anyone questioning this call...just go to the Seattle site and watch it in slow regular and slow motion as many times as you need to. If you add in that tie possessions go to the offense this is such an easy call when you see it in slow motion that you have to wonder how it could be called any other way. Great job by these refs who are under ridiculous scrutiny to follow the NFL rules. examine the replay and get it right. If the call on the field had gone to the defender there would probably be just as many complaints about it being a bad call.

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

      Rich, conveniently you avoid mentioning the clearly, inexcusably missed offensive penalty (pushing in the back). That's arguably even worse than the (bad) call regarding the catch.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sinfully Yours

    Goodell must go! And with him, these refs!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. ozzfestvet

    Under close analysis Jennings clearly catches the ball alone, however to complete a pass you must land and maintain possesion. While Jennings was in the air, Tate legally begins to attempt to overtake possesion. Tate has partial contact with the ball as his feet begin to touch the ground, Jennings feet not yet touching the ground does not have official possession yet, Tate now gets a better grip on the ball with feet fully on the ground as jennings feet begin to touch the ground, he does not have full possesion of the ball because Tate has an equal grip on the ball at the moment Jennings feet officially touch the ground. At that time they both officially have possession and it is a simultaneous completion. The NFL rule is the offense wins a simultaneous catch. GOOD CALL, THE RIGHT CALL

    September 25, 2012 at 6:24 am | Report abuse |
    • No horse in the race

      Just as valid arguememt as the otherside. Would be controversial but not the deal it is if it were the old refs. 50-50 chance the "real" refs make the SAME call. Lol

      September 25, 2012 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Geez007 just stated the case for the opposite. It is not simultaneous if one has it first. If the other player then attempts to gain control of the ball (as you state), they don't have a dog in the fight....just a flunky ref.

      September 25, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Aaron Rodgers

      EVEN if you are correct, Tate can't shove Sam Shields to the ground beforehand. So NO, that was not the right call!

      September 25, 2012 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Rich2012

      I watched the video of this play several times. It looked like the Seattle player actually jumped up and touched the ball first. The Green Bay player seemed to catch the ball in the air and then the Seattle player appeared to also get his hands wrapped around the ball before they both came down. If the rule of the tie going to the offensive player really is the rule that should be followed then there is no question that the catch should be awarded to the receiver. If you go by the NFL rules this looked like a great call by the refs. There are bad calls and missed calls in many sports. I have reviewed many of the supposed bad calls in the last few weeks and while there have been a few questionable calls most have been understandable. I think the news media is trying to spin up the hype about any close call to make a story out of it.

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

      Was the wrong call, but the fact is it should never hade gotten to that point. There were two other calls that kep the drive going (on possession of the ball for Seattle): the roughing the passer and the defensive pass interference. Horrible calls.

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

      The defender never gets more than one arm in. Jennings has both around the ball and controls it to the ground. WRONG CALL.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      First of all ... offensive pass interference.

      Secondly, as it's been pointed out to you, it's not possible to be a simultaneous catch if one player gains control first and an opponent later managed to gain joint control. It belong entirely to the first person to achieve and maintain possession, no matter how many other hands end up on it before the play is whistled dead.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
    • AL

      I just read your comment after I posted mine. You have a clear understanding of the rule in this situation. Obviously there are many fans that do not fully understand the rule for a simultaneous reception. Some football fans seemed to even forget that a "catch" not only involves possession while in the air, but you need to land with possession as well. Good job ozz

      September 25, 2012 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. Lou

    WOW, there are an aweful lot of ignorant comments supporting the refs. I especially like the one that says..."It doesn't matter how good or bad the refs are as long as both teams are being refereed in the same way. AS long as they are, the "game" is fair." BONEHEAD!!!
    There was no simutaneous catch. Bad calls on the field happen, but when the replay officials got it wrong...OMG!
    The owners don't care, they're making money. The players and fans should sit out one or two games. I know the players can't without repercussion but the fans can make quite a statement. I for one will not be attending any games unless the "REAL" officials are working the game.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:25 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      Part of the package is for a ref who is retired or otherwise not occupied on the field to work in the replay booth.

      September 25, 2012 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. government cheese


    September 25, 2012 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Krys

    I still haven't seen anything worse than old ref Bill Leavy at Giants v. Packers, where Giants managed to win despite all Leavy's efforts to the contrary!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Replacement Ref

    Replacement ref #94: "Did Jennings catch that?"
    Replacement ref #26: "Looks like it. Wait, Hey aren't you beating me in the FFL this week?"
    Replacement ref #94: "Yeah I am....Touchback"
    Replacement ref #26: "Not anymore...TOUCHDOWN!"

    September 25, 2012 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. KJV


    September 25, 2012 at 6:43 am | Report abuse |
    • RichD

      Lack of Defense is no excuse for lack of good calls!

      True if the team isn't close to the endzone bad calls matter way less!

      September 25, 2012 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
    • sleepy

      did you even watch the second half?

      September 25, 2012 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. jayman419

    This experiment is a failure. You can't just go out and grab high school refs and guys from small colleges and expect them to be able to accurately judge the game at the speed it's played in the NFL in realtime. Now we learn they can't even do it with tape delay.

    Ok... so we have refs talking to players about their fantasy teams. Refs throwing their hats under a receiver's feet in the end zone. Refs losing control of games and players getting hurt. And now refs negatively affecting the final score and ultimate outcome of a game.

    Add to that, one of the players said he'd give up $2 million (and that he suspected the other guys in his locker room could make up the rest) to get the real refs back in uniform.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. hankw651

    Why all the boo rah about the replacements. If Bill Belicheik has a problem with the refs, call Robert Kraft and tell him he's a cheap skate, If Mike Shannahan has a beef, call Daniel Snyder and tell him to get his head out of his a**. Why is non of this wrath directed at the owners. I think the game is a travesty, but there's only one group that will stop it. Until that changes, see if the Wizard of Oz is on Sunday afternoon instead.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. RichD

    So it seems a white hat needed to go there and first understand the two views of the judges – didn't see that happen.
    Then make a call then go to video. As I understand it the video cannot overturn the possession call only were you in-bounds etc. Also so both with hands on the ball clearly GB had the ball first and more of it so it seems simultaneous possession was NOT a factor. Bad call and there have been TONS of them. The teams will start playing with this in mind... not good for FB!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. Gary

    Good thing Nascar is on for a few more Sundays....think I will be watching that because watching NFL is depressing......

    September 25, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  13. jerry dice

    A similar play happened in the LSU – Alabama game 2 years ago. Alabama caught the ball but LSU took it away. The rule is not well defined.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:59 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      A simultaneous catch is explicitly defined. It may not be well enforced, but that's probably due to its rarity rather than any other factor.

      Did that college game have an offensive player shoving a defender to the ground?

      September 25, 2012 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. tamahomejenkins

    That call was horrible, and the game should not have ended the way it did. However, there were 5 Packers defenders in the vicinity of the ball. If they did their jobs (knocked the ball down instead of trying to intercept it) we wouldn't be talking about the refs right now.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      Five plus the one on the ground? Or four defenders left standing?

      September 25, 2012 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. Charles Barkley

    These referees are TERRIBULL!

    September 25, 2012 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
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