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)

    We've all talked about it, watched the replays, and voiced our opinions online .. it's time to take a stand!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Facepalm28

    This whole "they shouldn't have put themselves in a position where that call could hurt them" argument is really just stupid. Yes, teams will tell themselves that in practice afterward, but the bottom line is, if a team makes enough of the right plays to win, even barely, they deserve to win the game. It is not acceptable for officials in any sport to suddenly raise one team's bar for a winning performance by making incorrect calls. I understand the sympathy for the replacement refs simply being in over their heads, but when it's a matter of simply not applying the rules correctly (penalty mark-offs, challenges/timeouts, etc.) that's their fault. And on a game-deciding call, with all the necessary evidence right there on replay, there's no excuse whatsoever for botching it that egregiously.

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

      Unfortunately you wasted all that time typing. Because replay confirms they got it right: Touchdown. Only losers blame the refs. The shoe fits and you are wearing it.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. J Reddick

    Would there be the same type of outrage about the call that was made on the last play of the game if the “real” officials were on the field? Yes, the outrage would probably be the same. It seems that we seem to forget that the “real” officials do not always get calls correct all of the time. The replacement officials are just being used as scapegoats because of a play that was officially reviewed and confirmed to be a touchdown.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • John W.

      The "reviewed and confirmed" touchdown was reviewed and confirmed by the same inept officials who called it in the first place. Failed argument.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Wrong

    How's those replacement refs working out? BWA HA HA HA HA!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. greg Johnson

    I think it is ridiculous that this is what fans think is ruining the NFL, I think the league ruined it when they let players (and criminals) back into the league, Mike Vick and Tank Johnson, come to mind. Like it or not, these players are role models for todays youth, and they should act like it or not be in the public spotlight. Allowing people lick Vick and others to go back to their Millionaire paychecks and lifestyle is the real shame.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      The fans should be revolting against the NFL owners. Quit attending the games and watching them Starve out the NFL owners and deprive them of profits and they will get the message. The NFL owners are dictators to the games. They are making billions in profits and don't want to share them. FANS, REVOLT against the NFL owners NOW. Stop attending games.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brett

    When I read, "Discussion of the call virtually took over Twitter in the United States..." I lost all respect for this article. Twitter has no relevance or significance when it comes to journalism. CNN, these replacement journalists need to go.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vilik

      The author wasn't citing Twitter as an objective authority for a particular fact or piece of information, but merely using the volume of traffic as an indication of the amount of interest in this issue on the part of fans. A few select illustrative quotations from various Twitter feeds were then used in the same manner that TV reporters would use man-in-the-street or locker room interviews. How is that so bad? I mean, let's not get too carried away here...there are those who would say that this whole story (heck, this whole industry) barely has significance or relevance outside of the sports pages/in real journalism.

      September 25, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Navin

    I'm banning the NFL until the real refs return. Not buying any new jersey or NFL items. Let's hit the owner's and sponsors where it'll hurt them most. Their pockets.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      Your are so right. Stop the profits of the NFL owners and they will change, Even the players should be refusing to play the game. HURT the NFL owners with lost profits.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindey

      Ratings are up...highest ever, in fact. So go away. You will not be missed. The rest of us are loving the NFL for the first time in a LOOOOOOOONG time. Don't let the door hitcha on the way out...I'll be getting your seat and getting it CHEAP! yay!

      September 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • NFL-much-better

      Well, ratings are up, way up. Highest in history. More people are liking the games now and liking the refs. So you can leave...I'll be taking your seat and getting it cheap! Thank you! Yay!

      September 25, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Al Bundy

    I'm sure the replacements are doing the best job they can, but they are in way over their heads. The league's decision to lock out the officials has now compromised the integrity of the game. Fans paying big bucks to watch these games have a right to be irate. The NFL should be ashamed.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. achepotler

    This is very important...almost as important as religion..please do not look at the ball...*keep your eyes off the ball*

    September 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. NFLSucks

    Only $3.3 million is keeping profesional refs from the field. And how much – in billions – is revenue sharing?? Comissioner should be replaced for causing this fiasco along with the replacement refs. And yes – GB won the game.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bill

    I agree, we need the regular refs back... but what I don't get about the game last night; yes, maybe the replacement refs made a bad initial call but all TD's are reviewed by the booth and those refs are not replacements, they are regular officials... So, if there was a mistake in call of the final play of the game last night, why are the replacement refs being blamed? The replay officials (who are the regular officials) still awarded the TD to Seattle after the review.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • CP in FL

      Bill – In the rules it states that if a catch is ruled a simultaneous catch (caught by both the offence and defense) on the field, it cannot be reviewed as it is a judgment call. This was obviously not the case and the ball should have been awarded to the defense and the game ended.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Todd the Great

    This is sooo bad for everybody involved.

    Critical mistakes are being made that are costing teams games and when you only play 16 games each loss is critical. it's also bad for these replacement refs. They are doing the best they can with minimal training. these mistakes are going to happen and they are going to take an enormous about of heat for it.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim S

    Commissioner Goodell: can you really be this stupid???? Bring back the real refs now!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. oddjob2234

    What's "awful" is this article. The NFL "greed" that the Packers should have won?

    Rodgers called the officiating "awful?" No he didn't. That was his response to how it was watching the replay of that play. It's just embarrassing for reporting to be this incompetent.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PackerFan

    Stop blaming the refs. The Pack lost this game in a hundred ways long before the touchdown. And even on that play, our OWN PLAYER cost us the game by not just slamming the ball to the ground. IT WAS FOURTH DOWN. Even my 8 yr. old son knows that on FOURTH DOWN you don't INTERCEPT THE BALL, you ALWAYS just BAT THE BALL DOWN!

    M.D. JENNINGS, you are an IDIOT. Stop trying to blame someone else for terrible play. Our team blew it, and on that play, JENNINGS REALLY BLEW IT. Just bat the ball away! He was hotdogging and it COST US THE GAME!

    September 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
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