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. Mitt

    Stevie Wonder Could have a bright future in the NFL...

    September 25, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  2. lol

    pro foot ball as well as other pro sports is scripted just like pro wrestling.

    thats why they call it "sports entertainment"

    while our economy flounders it amazes me to see people still worshipping a buncha multi-millionaires who get paid to play around, while the rest of us bust our asses to make ends meet.

    then again when Rome fell, its population was too busy at the Circus maximus to give a damn about their society falling apart

    September 25, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
    • hooah

      Go back to your books you that all your life huh?

      September 25, 2012 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Reality check

      Obviously without the NFL these "un"officials would be on welfare. Beyond that, pro sports drives a part of the economy.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
  3. lezl

    its difficult to see incompatance but as a viking fan it reminds me of the nfc championship where they made 3 bad calls in a row first the 4th and 1 spot when jared allen clearly stopped the ball insuing posesion meachims catch that was clearly a mis then the pass inter ferernce when the ball wasnt cachable it doesnt matter what refs there are the results should be disputeble if a team is screwed then the next day it should be reveiwed and overturned bottom line until this happens the nfl will always have theese bad decisions and fans get screwed i feel your pain green bay

    September 25, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. hhinman

    Really looked like the 2 refs calling the final play looked at each other for a moment and decided to play something like "rock-paper-scissors" hoping to match calls!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  5. Buckeye_Fan

    NFL Players Union needs to initiate a walk out until the real refs are back. What's the point of suting up and risking injury when victory is only a roll of the dice?

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  6. Russ

    This game was so messed up, they should both be given wins.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bdcarolina

    Disappointed in refs, both teams played hard and the NFL needs to get the regular refs back. The brand is taking a hit!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. naheeshc

    I thought there were several game deciding calls throughout. The last play was certainly one of them, but there were more. If there was another two minutes, Seattle probably would have lost on a bad call.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  9. Muldawg2020

    According to the NFL rulebook, the defender did not have complete possession of the football. The receiver was able to get his hands in there and cause dual possession before the defender's feet touched the ground. therefore, the refs made the right call.

    Here's an excerpt that the guys at ESPN seem to be forgetting:

    "...To gain possession of a loose ball that has been caught, intercepted or recovered, a player must have complete control of the ball and have both feet completely on the ground inbounds or any other part of his body, other than his hands, on the ground inbounds...."

    September 25, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • ScabsHater

      Eh... you need to look at the replay again. Jennings had a full possession of the ball coming down from his jump, and had his legs on the ground. Jennings landed on the Seahawk receiver, and the receiver started to tug at the ball AFTER INTERCEPTION was made a.k.a FULL POSSESSION.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Allen W.

      I am not a fan of either team but it seems very, very clear that one hand touching the ball did not mean that the offense magically shared "dual possession." The defense had both hands on the ball and both feet on the ground.

      September 25, 2012 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Drew

    I love the Hawks,but this game was screwed up.If these jokers are allowed to even come near the playoffs or the Super Bowl, then there is going to be h*** to pay

    September 25, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  11. NuckyT

    Simultaneous possession, goes to the offense. Packer fans-instead of crying, maybe be happy you got your 1 TD. McCarthy should have kicked the extra point, instead of a 2pt try. Poor coaching decision. -NT

    September 25, 2012 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Shuksan

      You should have taken math and logic in school.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Math101

      If McCarthy kicks the extra point, GB has 13 pts. It could have made a difference at the end, to block the Seahawks extra pt try, to tie the game at 13. How does that not make sense to you? Cut back on the cheese eating, might help your math skills.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  12. government cheese

    Obama football.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. Shuksan

    Look at the photo. Jennings is holding the football, Tate is holding Jennings. Clearly an interception. And it would have been moot if the refs handn't called the bizarre roughing the passer when GB intercepted the ball earlier in the game.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
    • jsizzle


      September 25, 2012 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  14. government cheese

    The refs are wanting bad refs not to be sidelined. Sounds like the teachers union. How many kids paid the price for union strikes?

    September 25, 2012 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  15. koala

    Green bay had that ball. These refs make ya not want to watch the games.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
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