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. Smithsonian

    I think the replacement refs add an air of unpredictability that the NFL has lacked for some time. Referees randomly making guesses and what just did or did not happen really keeps fans on their toes.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. Woodrow

    Every team has had bad calls against them in any sport in any year. This is no different than any of those other times. Just hyped up as it ended the game. Game over. Move on.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  3. VinceRN

    Being in the Seattle area and not much of a fan I find this funny. Almost all of the serious Seahawks fans around here are doing all sorts of contortion to explain why this was the right call, even though they have all been complaining about calls in other games that didn't involve their team. Seems to me that if you are Seahawks fan then it was a good call, if you are a Packers fan it was a bad call and despite their claims no one really cares what the reality might be.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. toldUso

    This farce, piled on top of rules that now prevent the defense from even looking at the QB without a personal foul call, have ruined the game. Can't wait for hockey season. What?? They're locked out???? What's left? I hate the NBA!

    September 25, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. Chavez

    Not really know what shocks me the most. The NFL problem. Or that the new jersey senate wants to Introduce legislation so this won't happen again.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. Hawk fan

    I'm a hawks fan but should have lost that game. Ref's gave us that one.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • SeattleMike

      To all that are whining about this horrible call. Why are we only talking about that call? We wouldn't be talking about that call if 4 other horrendous calls weren't made during the Packers previous 2 scoring drives. Calls that extended drives that the SEAHAWKS STOPPED! What about the sack that was called a facemask when the defender TOUCHED the back of Rodgers helmet? That turned a 4th down into a 1st down. It was a pathetic call. Then interference calls that were horrendous. When you have 24 penalties called it turns into the refs dictating the game instead of allowing the players to do so. If they would have allowed the players to do it then it is a fairly good argument that the Seahawks win this one 7 – 3. That D stopped that offense stone cold without the refs help. Yes, the Seahawks also benefitted from horrendous calls. That's my point. I haven't seen so many 1st and 30 plus or 2nd and 30 plus plays in my life as an NFL fan. But we shouldn't be focusing on a call that has been made against the Seahawks more often than not. We have received more letters of apology from the NFL for blown calls that have stolen wins from us than any other franchise so I think it is fair that another team gets one.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • DT

      Hawk Fan U are wrong. Call was not good but GB would not be leading if it was not for a phantom pass interference call extending a drive that resulted in a GB TD. We'll take the win knowing that the refs are rookies. As a fellow hawks fan we must NEVER forget what happened in the Superbowl by the so called "pro" officials

      September 25, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Elizabeth

      To DT – Amen!!!!

      September 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Just Curious

    Yes, the officials are terrible and are letting some really rough and dangerous play happen w/o calling it, especially the mounting helmet to helmet hits that are supposed to be a focus of officiating. But I'm just curious about why this play (touchdown v interception) is being blamed on the replacements. It has been stated time after time that the replay officials are the real deal and it's my understanding that all scoring plays are reviewed automatically – it was also stated that this particular play was reviewed - uh, why didn't the replay refs make the correct call?
    Also, Trainsam - check the facts! The black and white proof that is being revealed is AGAINST Vilma and the Saints! Don't forget that BOTH Williams and Payton ADMITTED that they had been warned to STOP the bounty system and didn't!! YES, check out ALL the FACTS, not just the words that are coming from the players mouths !!! The only ones who are blind to the fact that this is real are Saints fans - I do feel bad for the fans about what the team is going through – but they had the opportunity to clean it up without the sanctions and opted not to. DEAL WITH IT THIS YEAR, THEN MOVE ON!!!!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nunya

    I hope they never bring back the refs. Football is finally interesting again!

    September 25, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. crazy media

    The NFL is a joke.

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

    None of this makes much sense. How do they determine the call on the field was a touchdown when 2 refs made 2 different calls? Secondly, why is it that there is a rule in place that the replay officials can't rule on possession? What the hell is their purpose otherwise? Again, how did they come to the conclusion that the on-field call was a touchdown when the refs made 2 different calls? Not all of this is the replacement refs fault.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. pye pye

    Thats sucks

    September 25, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. Truthbetold

    It is a joke for the NFL to preach integrity of the league when they don't care enough to make sure the games are being officiated at the highest level.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. DT

    Calls were horrible whole game, so many missed holding calls that should have went against GB in 2nd half, a phantom pass interference call on seattle extending a drive for GB that resulted in a TD, the call in the endzone? Was that a make up for the TD drive? crazy....

    September 25, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  14. inathens

    "New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney got into the game on Tuesday, saying he would introduce legislation against holding sporting events officiating by replacement referees."
    What a dope! Yeah this is something to get passionate about and argue about, but it's not something the government needs to care about or get involved with. This guy is either grabbing headlines opportunistically or he's just plain dumb on politics.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. Flagrante Delicto

    The NFL makes BILLIONS of dollars a year. The lock-out is over $3 million dollars. Screw the NFL. The players should not waste their energies and just not take the field.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
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