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. jimmy

    Go Seahawks! Go replacement refs!

    September 25, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Shari

      God had nothing to do with it. If you win through cheating, it's no win to be proud of. The game should be vacated.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • DC1973

      Shari, the Seahawks didn't cheat. Russell threw a heck of a pass, and both teams played a heck of a game. Seattle's D-line stomped Green Bay's O-line, and Aaron Rodgers, into the ground through the entire first half.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. travis

    I love all the people blaming the refs....of course they are not the best at this....they come from many levels below to ref the NFL....I guarantee it would be the same result if any of you went out there and tried to do their jobs. Generally speaking, people always take refs heads off throughout the year, thinking that somehow they should be magically perfect because the fan got to see 15 replays from every single angle, slow mo, etc and only then can they barely see what they think is correct. This game situation should not get you mad at the refs, of course they are going to make mistakes, they are not qualified for this, this should get you mad at only one thing: management and the other "normal" refs.....Naturally though, people would still be complaining at refs, even if they were the normal refs...its the way people are in America as we see everything and every review and the refs have to do it in real time. Not enough credit is normally given to refs in the first place for making a really good call, but they "miss" one questionable call and they get dragged across the coals...anyone who has every ref'd, ump'd, etc knows that it is a challenge to get everything correct. In the end, bad call or not, be mad at the normal refs and owners who are not figuring out this labor other thing, why the heck were the packers not knocking the ball down or out of bounds like they are supposed to do anyway. If they would have done that, which seemed fairly easy to do on the play as he outjumped the receiver, then they would not be talking about this play in the first place. That right there is the big problem with the play as if you play it correct you completely take the refs and judging out of the play all together.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. AlexV

    First of all, Green Bay should not have been in so precarious a position where this could even happen. So that is their fault. But the real problem here is the refs had access to replay angles that clearly showed *2* things– FIRst, and what would have negated the touchdown in the first place, was the offensive pass interference that happened before the catch. SECond, it's (hardly) arguable but definitely looks like Jennings had it way before Tate. A tough call to make in the split-sencond as it happened, but refs had a chance to come out with the right call in the end, and didn't.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Brandi Wolf

      The second part you wrote is correct, but the first part is off. Refs are not allowed to call penalties based on replays.

      However you're right – that call was WAY wrong.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. FootballFan

    After catching highlights of the Packers/Seahawks game I can honestly say that replacement refs are a fun addition to the NFL! They are like a 3rd team on the field and you don't know what's going to happen with them...makes the game more interesting with this new dynamic.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • JD

      Hate to say it, but I have to agree. Seeing the refs out there making these calls and bumbling around is pretty funny.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. db

    I dont think this call is any worse than the pass interference call that allowed the gb to score a td a little bit earlier....I think that call was worse than this one.....

    September 25, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. rhfl55

    OK, so it was a bad call, in fact a couple of bad calls. Why wasn't it overturned? How can you look at that in replay and not see that it was the wrong call? I think the refs are not only missing the calls, but now they're afraid to step up and assert themselves. You can see that in the games where it takes them a long time to sort out simple calls. This is going to get ugly as players realize the refs aren't in control.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  7. shoos

    Fire Goodell! Fire the guy that hired them.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  8. OriginalPhantom

    For all you that are complaining about the guys trying to ride herd on these two legged buffaloes, consider the alternative..... no football.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • DC1973

      No, the alternative is that the owners stop being brats and let the real refs back on the field.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    I understand making a bad call of the field, but how could they uphold that call on the replay? That was clearly an interception.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. Joe

    After viewing Monday night's game between Seattle and Green Bay I've become a believer that the Mayans were right: This is the end of the world as we know it.

    The Three Stooges could do a better job than these replacement refs.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. JB

    I would like to hear a clarification of the call from the NFL. My understanding of the rule, and I'm not an expert, is that if there is a tie on the catch the ball is awarded to the offense. So in this case the call on the field was a catch, and the reply did not have "irrefutable" evidence to say otherwise.
    In real time its hard to see who has the ball, especially the first time you see it (the refs only get one chance in real time). In slow motion it "looks" like GB has possession, but not enough to overturn the call on the field. Therefore, I don't believe this to be a blown call at all.
    The pass interference (not reviewable) clearly was missed, but generally for last second passes like this it's every man for himself. As long as no-calls are consistent, which I think for last second passes into large groups of people they are, I am ok with it.
    Disclaimer: I am a Bears fan

    September 25, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
    • shoos

      It just clearly wasn't a simultaneous catch. It was clearly an interception and that is the disaster that is the officiating. It was just painful watching the disaster that was the officiating, the whole game, for both sides. It was like watching play by play instead of a football game. So disappointing, I can't watch any more football, it's just so bad.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • DC1973

      I'm a Bears fan, too. I wasn't invested in either game, and I think the Ravens' field goal and the Seahawks' touchdown should be called back. I'd fall over in shock if the NFL actually did vacate the wins and award them to the right teams, because I don't think they ever will, but that doesn't change the fact that I think they should.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • SickOfHearingIt

      Agreed JB. In real time, it looked like a simultaneous catch. The Refs dont have the benefit of replay before making the call. Since when is a one handed catch not a catch?

      September 25, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • JB

      Lets be civil here, no need to use foul language. I just wanted to start a discussion on the rule.
      I just re-watched the catch on YouTube and even the announcer says it is a simultaneous catch when watching it in real-time. Of course, he is much further away. It also looks like the Seahawk player had two hands, not one. I guess really the debate is what is considered a catch. I will agree that cradling the ball to your chest is more of definitive of a catch then just using your hands, but using just your hands is still a catch.
      I also believe the rule is that until the players hit the ground they can fight for the ball. However, once they are down that's it. So even though the GB player rolled over that doesn't count. Only how the possession was right when the hit the ground.
      Again, as I stated before. I just want the NFL to clarify if this is how the rule was interpreted or not. Bad call maybe, blown call no.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
    • callitright

      I agree, but forget the field goal... what was even worse in the Ravens game was the pass interference call on Devon McCourty which resulted in a short yardage situation and a TD conversion for Ravens. You know that when the perpetual Patriots hater (read: jealous) Phil Simms' reaction is a one-word... "Wow" to the call, that its a baaad call.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  12. R

    Looks like this season is already over and lost. Too many game changing mistakes swinging the game to the non-deserving team for a win. The stats/records are all messed up now. Season over.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  13. Djingo

    I'm done watching the NFL for this year until they bring in real refs. Unfortunately, I'm also a hockey fan. Not much left to watch.......

    September 25, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. SickOfHearingIt

    Was it a bad call? Looks that way in hind site. Was it a bad call that kept GB's touchdown drive alive. Looks that way. Was it the bad call that cost Green Bay what should have been a fairly simple win, or was it the pathetic production of their offence, or the 9 sacks on Rogers that cost them the game? Hmmmm tough one.
    Everyone agrees that replacement refs are bad, but no one seems to be offering any solutions. Should the league just give up and pay the Refs whatever they ask for? How about cancel the season? I can't see any other solutions besides staying with the replacement refs. All the screaming and yelling about how bad the are and the "integrity of the game" only serves to empower the Striking refs and prolongs a bad situation.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. DmitriKo

    Why media conveniently ignore at least two stupid non-existent pass interferences refs penalized Hawks earlier in the game while in reality those were darn good defensive plays, perfectly legal? Each of those kept GB drives going instead of ending them, and both those drives ended up with field goals.

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

      There were bad and/or missed calls on BOTH sides. The media is not ignoring them, they just happened to not be the GAME WINNING play. Of course, that will get the most attention. Duh.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
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