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. Mike K

    Why are the players, who are members of a union, crossing the real referees picket lines? What has happened to union solidarity in this country?

    September 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • peakprofit

      Thankfully, it has been replaced by common sense.

      September 26, 2012 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. buck

    If this play happened with the packers on offense and seahawks defense would people be making this a big deal. Just wondering

    September 25, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigJoe

      Yes, it would still stink. The play was unquestionably bad, I don't care who it was. I mean, I've seen questionable calls but this one was not questionable, it was wrong.

      September 26, 2012 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rightster

    If it wasn't the Cheesers who got the raw end of a call , it wouldn't be as big of a story as it's made out to be. Is this the first time in 15 years the Cheesers haven't had every call go their way? Ever since Madden loved Favre? Detroit got robbed of a game on Sunday when the ball on a 3rd down play inside the 10 in overtime was marked short. Why isn't that drawing the outrage?

    September 25, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • BigJoe

      Maybe because it wasn't on national tv on MNF. The Detroit gaff made news all over the place but it was only regional coverage.

      September 26, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    "Regarding the NFL's labor dispute with its regular officials, sticking points include salary issues and changes to the officials' retirement program."

    Way to conveniently not mention that one of the major sticking points is that the NFL wants to be able to bench refs that regularly make bad calls. They want to increase the number of refs so that if some need to be removed, for bad calls, their would be other trained refs to replace them.

    The salary issue can be explained like this. The average ref made $149,000. The NFL offered to gradually increase the pay to $189,000 by 2018.

    The pension fight is over changing the pension over to a 401k.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kenmasters34

    Yeah the refs made a lot of mistakes last night. But seriously, this is way out of proportion.

    1) Does anyone remember last years NYG@GB playoff game? The refs practically tried to hand GB the game. That game should have been 49-0 NYG
    2) Am I the only one who remembers Tim Tebows first Hail Mary last season. There was a blatantly obvious Defensive pass interference that didnt get called. I didnt see people crying like today.

    3) I have seen yesterdays replay probably 20 times today. To my eyes, Jennings, gets his hand on the ball first(not control, hands). Then Tate. Tate gets it closer to his body and lands on his back. Jennings lands on top of Tate, both of them possessing the ball. Jennings is able to roll, and appear to have more possession of the ball. But that is because he is on top and able to roll some possession away from Tate. Either way, they both still possess the ball. By rule, its Tate's ball.

    Just like with regular refs, PI on a Hail Mary, is missed. Big Whoop. IMO, the call on the reception is good.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      You either have a really bad memory, or terrible eyesight. I recommend that you watch the play again... in slowwww motion.

      September 26, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • peakprofit

      Agreed 100%. By any definition of possession, interception and reception, the play was called correctly. Yes, Jennings got his hands on the ball first. But Tate touched the ground with two feet first. The minute his but touched the ground, it was a TD.

      Before the catch, sure there was interference. But I can't ever remember a Hail Mary without it. In fact, a fighting majority of Hail Mary plays are called in hopes that the defense gets called for PI. They don't really think that throwing a ball to 3 guys surrounded by 6 opponents is a smart strategy. There is plenty of pushing and shoving on each and every Hail Mary. I would say that 10% get called – even with those perfect refs who have been replaced.

      September 26, 2012 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mrs Time

    The fact stands that even the regular refs make horrible calls and calls that cost games.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • oldtimer

      Regular refs took SuperBowl XL from the Seahawks. Regular refs gave Jets Vinnie Testaverde a TD against the Seahawks when he was clearly stopped short of the goal line which knocked the Seahawks out of the playoff hunt. Every team gets gifts or has one stolen away eventually whether it be regular refs or replacement refs. What goes around comes around.

      September 26, 2012 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  7. Palm Beach Robert

    Lemmeseehere. A win by dint of the refs' field call, sustained under replay review, re-endorsed by the NFL Officiating Dept. and certified by an NFL press release. Please, stop the whining. And, omg, some other subjective call for a penalty may have been missed by the refs? Like that never happens, almost every game, for decades. The players' spin to blame temp. refs is just

    September 26, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. Selmers

    Im done with NFL. Its not even fun anymore

    September 26, 2012 at 12:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. HaHaHaPackers

    Soon we will have to accuse these refs of being dog killers too, cause when the NFL goes bankrupt, Michael Vick is going to have to go back to his previous way of making money.

    September 26, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. OriginalPhantom

    See! Good things do happen. And the Packers losing is always a good thing.

    September 26, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. tomsojo

    If Jesus was officiating that game, I guarantee he would've got that call right. If Muhammad or Buddha were officiating the game, they would have made the same call these dummy refs made. Just goes to show that Jesus is the only true prophet this world has ever seen. I route for the Raiders because we all know Jesus is a Raiders fan. If you don't believe in Jesus, I feel bad for you. Make sure you vote for Mr. Romnie!!!

    September 26, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. xfiler93

    I am going to go out on a limb and say YES, the BLEW IT!

    September 26, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. seafan

    Does anyone remember when Seattle was robbed in the Super Bowl a few years back? And the official who made the bad call back then finally apologized to the Seahawks not to long ago. There were a lot of examples of bad calls on Monday night – against both teams. Hope the real refs return soon!

    September 26, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. mike

    $3milllion dollars separates a deal with the real refs? Have they asked how much money is and will be lost with the replacements? Probably more than 3 mil. Give them two million, they'll probably accept it. Or give the 3 mil and be done with it. We need quality, respectable officials calling the games. Period.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:20 am | Report abuse |
    • The Spear

      Mike, get real... If it's all about the money then what makes it a sport worth watching? So much for the love of the game.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Roman Lexington

    What a bunch of cry babies. Its just a game ...move on.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
    • The Spear

      I agree... It's not like they're running for office or anything. Although they get paid more and work less.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
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