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. Atilla

    The only way to get the owners to settle their dispute with the refs is to stop watching the NFL until they do. As soon as ratings go down (causing ad revenues to go down), this lockout will be over.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AZFan

    Historically, unions have done great things for the underpaid and underappreciated, but this is the 21st century–they ALSO screw up companies and sports!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Pete/Ark

    Monday Night Football is the funniest parody of "reality TV" I've ever seen ....SNL couldn't beat it...

    September 25, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Twons


    Count me in as somebody who is only mildly interested in the game, but is now disgusted with it and every conversation around it.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dennis Pell

    "Not reviewable" – seriously? Any play – or part of a play – really, any action by any player that has an effect on the outcome of the game, anything that a ref "could" call on (whether he does or not) ought to be, by definition, "reviewable." The NFL here is saying, "Yeah, that ref blew it (not calling Tate's shove), but even when we know the ref was wrong, and it changed the outcome of the game, we aren't going to do anything about it because we prefer to stand by our policy that the ref is "infallible" (which is what "not reviewable" really means)."

    Integrity? The refs didn't have it. The NFL clearly doesn't. The Seahawks know the truth yet happily accept the win, so theirs is lost as well. Must be a Green and Gold thing. Sad.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mister Jones

      Do you have any idea how long replays would take if every aspect of every call was reviewable? They put these standards in place for a reason. It's never been reviewable, but now you have a problem with it?

      September 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. James

    "Did NFL refs blow game-winning TD call?"–Absolutely !!!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Replacement Ref

    I think everybody is right.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Vijay

    This happens in every sport. Even the normal official makes mistakes. Remember Super Bowl Pittsburgh VS Seattle game, Ben touchdown". Even on Pittsburgh VS Arizona game, S Holmes touchdown (in which one of his feet was not touched the ground) and Kurt Warner fumbled the ball, actually he had forward motion. This is nothing new. Since past few years, Pass interference call and roughing the passer penalty increase 10 fold, which should not, so that is all about this game.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. alfranken

    This is what happens when you undermine unions with scabs.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. avaevey

    As a NFl fan from the day I was born.. I have never been more digusted by the "final"call of not just the replacement refs but but the board of the NFL. To say "that the call stands" is just...... Have some balls and make the right call for once

    September 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jllsppw

    So what if Tate pushed off in the end-zone, penalties are not reviewable in the NFL WR's & DB's push each other all over the field and don't get called big deal! If you want to talk about woulda, coulda, shoulda's how about that lame pass interference call on Chancellor that kept the Packers only touchdown drive alive? So throw that push in the back crap in the trash where it belongs. Had this situation been the opposite and it was the packers on the receiving end, nobody would be discussing this today. If the Seahawks had an offense the score would have been 40 to 12! Packers enjoy you 1 & 2 start

    September 25, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. insi10

    Blaming the replacement refs has become a sport nearly as big as Monday Night Football. I think they are to be blamed for a lot of bad calls in this game, but this is a call that regular NFL refs would have been just as likely to get wrong.

    The real problems are these:

    1. A penalty affecting the outcome (specifically, offensive pass interference when everybody's eyes are glued on the ball about to be caught) can't be called in replay. WHY NOT???

    2. Time and time again, referees at all levels - including NFL regular refs - give wide receivers the benefit of the doubt. Why? Scoring is good for profits. I saw a replay of an NFL game last week in which the wide receiver ran right into the defender, then grabbed the DB's shoulder and held on for three strides, then the ball arrived, and when the DB lunged AT THE BALL, he was called for defensive pass interference. If that event had happened between two citizens, the WR could have been arrested for assault and battery.

    That is the core of the problem here. It is not just the ties, but the benefit of the doubt, that goes to the receiver. We all like it that way, by the way. So let's not be hypocrites about this bad call.

    3. Why was this not overturned by rule? This was not a simultaneous catch. The rules are complex but clear. The DB had complete possession of the ball first. What this looked like is that instead of applying the rule, the booth official left the on-field guys out to dry - intentionally, to make them look as bad as they looked.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      True, but the replacement refs still stink.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • 2ndAmendmentBrianBrian

      What's even more saddening if Obama is leading the tweet's. I think the jerk has more important things to do but watching Monday night football. He's already ranking #2 in most vacation time by a president in one term. As deep as this country is in, this is the very last thing he should be watching. We have troops dying for this country and he can sit and watch game 3 of a half a$$ football season? Maybe he should show up to a marines funeral that gave his life last nigh so Obama could even watch the game. There are some things you have to give up when you run the country. Sitting on your butt watching ANY TV should not be on that list. Please vote this guy out!

      September 25, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. insi10

    What I heard him say was "tie goes to the runner." Idiot sportswriter doesn't know baseball language.

    Not such a dumb comment. He's drawing a simile in a cover-your-butt situation.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jlf

    just heard on ABC news that the ref who called it a touchdown is an executive with Bank of America and has only coached high school and junior college games....another screwover by the banking industry!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. George

    Please contact the league office with me and get them to throw out the chain guys that come out and measure for a first down.What is this 1949 football.When you have the technology we have today are you kidding me.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      I like the chain. And...............this game had just as bad penalties on both sides. The ghost PI call on the hawks lead to the GB touchdown too...

      September 25, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
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