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. Air Bud

    The NFL is getting everything it deserves. Praying for the day they finally shut it all down.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dbw

    with the new refs the NFL is better than ever. Much more interesting and exciting now. I love it

    September 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bigshotnfl2012

    ......OK....OK........we NFL OWNERS agree that these frefs gotta go. Therefore, we have contracted with...................................HALIBURTON, AND WILL USE SOCCER REFS FROM GERMANY................

    September 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mcskadittle

    well at least it wasn't in the Superbowl (like Superbowl XL)

    September 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. BD

    I don't know how the owners are facing their coaches and players this morning. Its a good thing Green Bay is publicly owned.....

    September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. whine&cheese

    Give the refs a break, they have been placed in a difficult situation in which the NFL has created. Yes, there have been controversial calls, but put yourself in the refs position. Also, I wish the players, coaches, fans, etc would quite whining. There is no need for this poor sportsmanship after calls and after the games. People need to take accountability and responsibility for their actions. This is not good role modeling for our children. Shame on you, and shame on the media for continuing to create this drama. Maybe there should be stories that focus on sportsmanship instead.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      It sounds like you don't fully understand the situation and the ramifications. Read and understand before you post.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Replytoyou

      And maybe the whole NFL organization and officals should quit being so greedy. Seriously, a strike in an economy like this? Replacement officials are awful and they need to go now! Settle the dispute or put the season on hold before further injury, shame, or game losing calls are made.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    Officiating is part of the game. Are there any studies or statistics that state how much more officiating is worse off now than before? I remember Super Bowl XL should have went to the Seahawks if it wasn't for the officials. Plays that are now celebrated were off of botched calls like the Music City Miracle (clearly a forward pass) or the Immaculate Reception where the ball hit off the Steeler's receiver first which used to be an illegal catch. I also remember watching Jerome Bettis call one side of the coin and the officials said he stated the other and gave the ball to the Lions in OT who scored on the first possesion. Teams should put themselves in positions so that a poor call doesn't affect the outcome. If the Packers really wanted to win that game they should have been up by 3 scores with 0:10 left.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. KWS

    At the end of the day, it's a BUSINESS based on A GAME. Unless we stop watching, the business owners need to do what is necessary to run the business they want, IN THE LONG TERM. If refs getting collective bargaining rights isn't in that plan, I doubt they will shelve all their long term plans because of a bad call in a game. Yes, it was outrageous to everyone watching, but compared to almost anything else in the front page news today, does it really matter? Will ANYONE care a year from now?

    Get over it.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mcskadittle

    If the commissioner starts making the decision on who wins the games then what is the difference between the NFL and the WWE

    September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bigshotnfl2012


    September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. bigshotnfl2012

    ...........ok..........OK.................NEXT WEEK .......WE USE REFS FROM............................................................K MART.......

    September 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bob b

    first of all there should have been a flag for pushing off an the touchdown would have never counted

    September 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigot

      interference is never called at the end of games.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dana Jo

    My father is a regular NFL referee and union member. He said it was a catch and a touchdown and that's how he would have called it live and definitely the right call after watching the replay.

    So it would not have mattered who was officiating. The regular NFL referees also see it as a touchdown. Packers fans are just upset that they lost. It was a good game!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • ItsAGame

      Thanks for some real input from what a real NFL ref saw. With the real NFL refs the outcome is the same. Best post amongst all this nonsense.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      your dad's an idiot!

      September 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • MattG

      Your Dad's opinion is the opposite of any referee pundit I've heard over the last 12 hours. Obviously your dad is no longer a ref for a reason. Get a grip on reality....pass interference + interception does note equal a Seahawk win no matter what math you are using.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      It's not just Packers fans, and it's not because they lost. Look around, it's ALL football fans. This goes beyond a bad call that decided the outcome of a game (actually two bad calls on one play if you count the missed offensive pass interference call), it is ruining the NFL's credibility that it has worked so hard to build. As for your dad, I'm sure he's a great guy, but he is in the minority of how anyone – including a past vice president of officiating – would have called it. (Out of curiosity, what did dad say about the offensive pass interference? Would he have overlooked that too?)

      September 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • curt

      I agree, it was a good game, I think you are full of it with what your father the "ref" said, anyone who has half a clue would realize it was a very poor call for multiple reasons...

      September 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    Guys like Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Joe Montana, etc. would be appalled that the game they built has come to this...sad.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Charlie

    If your team loses it must be the replacement refs fault.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • curt

      Did you see the play?

      September 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
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