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. Anonymouses

    Why isn't anyone talking about the bad defensive pass interference call that kept the Packer's scoring drive alive? All is fair, you take the good and the bad calls... It all worked itself out in the end...

    September 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |

    September 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ayr Farm Kid

    Agree that the call went the wrong way, but to focus just on the last call is to ignore all the other missed or erroneous calls throughout the game (and all others of late) that have had an effect on the eventual outcome of games. A missed hold here. A blown pass interference call there. A questionable personal foul flagged...or a blatant one ignored. I'm a die-hard Seahawks fan...and I'll sheepishly take the "W"...but I sincerely hope that the owners realize what this is doing to their individual team brands and put some pressure on the powers that be to resolve this situation so we can get back to having real professional referees blowing calls rather than amateurs!

    September 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CowboyConcivts

    NFL games are like watching a 3.5 hour long Buffalo Wild Wing commercial. It's basically where anything can happen and there are no questions asked.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. AFVet

    The officiating has gotten progressively worse. The players are professionals and have figured out what they are able to get away with and are doing so. The current officials have lost control of the games. It will be virtually impossible for them to now get it back without having games last 4 hours because of penalties. It is time for the leadership of the NFL to settle with the locked out officials and admit that they play a much larger part of the success of the NFL than the NFL leadership previously thought.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Frank

    As one of hundreds of thousands of Seattlites who voted the stadium down and then had to pay for it anyway after Gary Locke did his backroom kickback deal with his developer buddies, I am always happy to see the Seahawks lose. However, even I recognize when really really bad calls like the ones in the Seakhawks / Raiders game. Maybe this is a lame make-up call. The Seahawks would've won the superbowl if it weren't for those calls. Lol.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BasswoodBrewCo

    Fans maybe screaming for the NFL to step up and pay for the officials to come back to work, but I see this play as a payday for the officials in this labor dispute.

    Think about this… the officials want a better compensation package and the NFL doesn’t want to pay for it. These types of calls are going to continue to happen and the longer these officials hold out the more leverage they gain in the labor dispute. If I were the officials I would up the ante and wait for the NFL to cave.

    Awful for the game, but the officials have to love this right now.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rckl

    The NFL is so great because they have the best athletes, best REGULAR officiating crews, and best fans. The ABSOLUTE least important people in the equation are the owners. To be one all you need is a ton of money and suit and tie with pants waist of 44 inches or above. Take away the best athletes and you have no NFL. Take away the fans and you have no NFL. Take way the REGULAR officiating crews and you have this years NFL. Take away the owners....who cares? You can always come up with another 44 inch waist with tons of money. The most powerful people in the whole equation are the fans. The fans determine EVERYTHING. Instead of becoming infuriated about how horrendous this season has been so far why don't YOU end the walkout? Simply make up your mind that you are fed up with all of this and make the very small commitment that YOU WILL NOT GO TO YOUR HOME GAMES(or watch on TV). After all, this officiating debacle is affecting EVERY SINGLE TEAM IN THE LEAGUE. The owners only love one thing in their life: MONEY. You the fans have the power to shut that off substantially. Do you have the guts to do it?

    September 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    As a Packer fan, my reaction is: Score more than 12 points and this doesn't matter. Pathetic last 7 games from a former 13-0 team.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yesssireee

      Absolutely right! If you're good then you're good – have at it!

      September 25, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. donjgen

    If we get replacement refs, we need replacement players to play with them. When is the players union going to support the refs?

    September 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. simk

    The rules clearly state that, in the even of a simultaneous catch, the catch goes to the passer. The rules also clearly state that, in order to have control of the ball, If a player goes to the ground while in the process of making a catch, he must control the ball all the way through until his momentum from the fall ends. If at any point before his momentum stops he loses control of the ball and it touches the ground, the pass is incomplete. Packers had a very nice ALMOST reception, but did not have control of the ball. Thus it becomes a simultaneous catch.

    The only reason NFL caved on the decision was because Twitter is bigger than ever and Greenbay fans are notorious whiners. If Packers fans were correct, then the NFL would not have let the Seahawk's vistory remain a victory.

    The ref that made the call deserves a raise for knowing the rules so well. Deal with it.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom higley

      Must be nice to live in your version of reality. When you come back to Earth, let us know.

      September 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • simk

      You aren't the first Packers fan to ignore the rules being displayed all over the television.

      If you want to blame anyone for causing problems, blame the ref that disagreed with the ref that seems to know all the rules' little details.

      September 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yesssireee

      I'm not a Packer fan at all – but I agree with this and so would everyone else if they would get off the 'old refs' band wagon. Remember last year when we screamed that these refs were crap and get them off the field? Well our wish has been granted – better be careful what you wish for next time. I think, given that the call was made in real time without the benefit of 500 replays, they absolutely made the right call this time. That's not to say that they didn't miss a thing or two here or there – all refs do – but this time everyone is screaming in the wrong direction.

      September 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • jrc

      Right, wrong or any other way, I have a question. If the upstairs officials are regulars, why didn't they over-rule the touchdown call?

      Any objective thoughts on that would be appreciated.

      September 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eggman38

    FIRST: Are we going to pretend that the "professional" refs never made mistakes???
    SECOND: This is the problem when unions go on strike (not to be political about this). They create a small and specialized group for a job so that other "fill in's" seem inferior. Without the unions, there would be MORE qualified refs on the field.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    The replacements have certainly made mistakes, but the regular refs definitely make mistakes too - perhaps less frequently or perhaps they're just looked at less critically. In particular, I will always remember a game from many years back where the Raiders beat the Chargers by basically rolling the ball down the field (advancing a fumble instead of picking it up). In that case, too, the league admitted they were wrong, but it was too late and (if I recall correctly) that determined the postseason for both teams.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. johndanger

    That final drive of the game had not ONE, not TWO, but THREE bad calls that combined to give Seattle a game that they didn't deserve to win. Very ugly. If I didn't know better (which I don't) I'd suspect that the fix was on. The league should have shown some class and overturned the outcome and given the game to Green Bay. We'll be talking about this game for years, especially if it effects either team's playoff situation. Shameful.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Oh and how did the Packers get their TD? Oh the got a first down on a bown PI call on the Hawks defense. So the Packers shoudl never have gotten a TD in the frist place. Hawks still win 7 to 6. Stop crying!

      September 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  15. larry5

    Oops. This could have serious consequences down the road. Well, it's this or don't play the game until the dispute is settled. Given that maybe everyone can accept the call and move on.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
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