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. Doug

    I love how Paul Ryan blows off today about the game, yet he was for taking away collective bargaining of teachers in Wisconsin... We get it one way or the other folks.. Imagine if this were your children being taught in school !!!
    We need unions to keep the playing field fair, without it everyone is robbed by the ones who hold all the money already !

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

      I knew it was only a matter of time before someone tied this to politics. Quite a stretch there, Armstrong.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. f-the-rich

    Why would they bring back the real refs? That would be caving into socialist unions. It would also cost them 3.3 Million dollars (the difference between the union and the league) or the cost of a super bowl ad.

    The fans will get used to bad calls the same way we have gotten used to lead in our products from China.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Yet another uninformed genius tying this story completely unrelated topics. Take a look at the CPSC website and see how many lead-paint items have been recalled, Einstein. No sport will remain a real sport that requires its fans to 'get used to' bad calls. Ask Vince McMahon.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dan I

    I feel somewhat bad for the replacement refs. They are clearly in over their heads and I think they know it. Many of these refs haven't officiated in anything CLOSE to the NFL, we're talking lower division college and the Libgerie League (I'm serious, some of these refs worked THERE).

    September 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Yawn

    Perhaps they should blame the players who get payed big bucks to catch the ball for not catching the ball a dozen times prior to the play. Or how about the defense for not doing what they should do in a situation like that, which is knock the ball away rather than try to pad their own interception stats.

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

      Great point. I thought that at the time. Just bat it out the back of the end zone – game over, Pack wins.

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

      OHhhh so then you are saying we don't need refs????

      September 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigot

      "OHhhh so then you are saying we don't need refs????"

      Read the post, slowly this time.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. volsocal

    Witchhunt mentality abounds. The "real" referees make plenty of mistakes, too. That's why we have replay (which sucks – I'd rather live with the occasional bad call and go back to the old clock rules that allow more plays per game).

    "Real" refs never call offensive interference during hail mary plays, either. Real refs make phantom hollding and pass interference calls, and miss obvious ones, too.

    If the players played better and didn't break rules on every play, the games wouldn't be decided by the refs.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jasonn13

    That Packers/Seahawks game last night was probably the worst example of officiating I have EVER witnessed. Those two refs on that TD call should have been hung from the goal post in lieu of the required extra point play.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Areacode612

    I've seen bad officiating from the locked out ref's. Look at Bounty Gate. How many illegal shots did they let the Saints take on Brett Favre? Bad calls happen whether it's the replacements or not.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Syndrome Zed

    I hate to say it but I think the replacement guys wound up making the right call – what Carroll (who I hate, for full disclosure) mean to say is "Tie goes to the runner", which is true for NFL receiving too. There's no indisputable visual evidence to overturn the decision based on replay since the penalty isn't reviewable, only possession. And don't forget, the guys in the review booth are NOT replacements, they're the regulars.

    I saw plenty of missed interference calls on both sides throughout the game – both teams' wideouts and tight ends have learned you can get away with a lot more contact right now. The game didn't turn on one blown call, even though that's how it seems – how many passes did Green Bay complete to keep drives alive because Finley pushed off, or Jennings didn't get called for smacking a DE in the face as he started his route? There are lots of hidden plays in the game whose outcome changes the end result, so you can't really pin things on just one call.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cryofpaine

    At least it wasn't the SuperBowl. The Seahawks lost their first SuperBowl in large part due to inept officiating. Maybe these guys were just trying to make it up to them. Should have saved it for when they play the Patriots then.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Look Out!

    It is the randomness of the scabs' failures that has created something resembling NFL footbal, but not really the product so many pay for. Until the media recognizes that this is a scab season and the results are tainted, nothing will change. Until fans decide to ignore this Faux-Football, owners will feel no pain.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. travis

    Why did Jennings even go for the interception in the first place. Are you not supposed to hit the ball down or out of bounds so that you don't end up in these situations? He did out jump tate, so he could have easily knocked the ball out of bounds. Game set match. Pack win.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • James PDX

      On Sunday a defensive player attempted to knock down a hail mary. A waiting receiver nabbed it and fell in for the winning TD.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mike

    The replacement refs are probably throwing the calls in support of the ref union.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt

    I like the new refs. I watch just to see what they do next.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MaryMo

    I am curious, though. I wonder how people (Packers, football fans in general, the public) would be reacting if the situation were reversed. Would the Hawks just be whiners? Sore losers? I mean, let's be real... the Packers are NFL darlings and the Hawks have always been considered underdogs. The fuss would NOT be the same.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. James PDX

    OK, so you need replacement officials. But were peewee football officials really the best available? These refs don't even seem to know the rules under which they are officiating. As to who decided this game, it was clearly the refs. First they made 2 bad calls that allowed the Packers to score, then they made a bad call and 1 truly horrific call to allow the Seahawks to come back. Even if they missed the blatant shove in the back, calling that a joint possession was ludicrous. The defensive player made the catch, then secured it. Tate then wrapped his arm around it. That's not simultaneous possession, that's one guy having control of the ball and the other guy then trying and failing to take it away from him. How they missed that in video review shows they don't even understand the rule.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
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