|The final play of Week 3 could become the tipping point for the ref lockout. (Getty Images)|
It was always going to take a singular trainwreck of an officiating decision that drastically altered the outcome of a game for the NFL to consider caving to the league's refs. That play might've happened on Monday night, when Golden Tate "caught" a 24-yard Hail Mary from Russell Wilson to give the Seahawks a stunning 14-12 victory over the Packers.
Couple problems, though. No. 1: You'd be stretching things to say Tate absolutely caught the ball. Or even remotely caught the ball; M.D. Jennings quite clearly intercepted it. Except that leads to problem No. 2: One official ruled a touchdown, while the other ruled a touchback. They did this at the same time, leading to 2 Refs/1 GIF:
Let's clarify this really quickly, shall we? Because there might be some notion that this was a tie-goes-to-the-receiver situation. It's not. (Following emphasis is mine.)
"If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers," the NFL rule book reads (.PDF). "It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball."
|NFL Week 3 Wrap-up|
Pete Carroll threw a "Nice call!" when asked about it in his press conference, and Wilson was political about the situation on the set of Monday Night Football. But the reality is that Jennings had possession of the ball well before Tate, who was eventually awarded the touchdown.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy did his best to stay calm, but it was pretty clear his blood was about to boil during his post-game presser.
"I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football," McCarthy said of the final play, also emphasizing that he understood Jennings intercepted the ball.
Has anyone seen anything like this before? The worst thing about it for the NFL and the replacement refs, though, is that the final play was set up by a slew of iffy penalties during the fourth quarter.
The refs threw a number of flags on the Packers that moved the Seahawks within scoring range before they failed on fourth down near the goal line. One was a terrible roughing the passer call on Eric Walden during the first play of the next-to-last drive that should've been an interception on Wilson. Then Sam Shields got tagged for a defensive pass interference penalty that was questionable (even if he did get Sidney Rice's jersey) and gave the Seahawks new life.
But nothing compared to the final play, when a disastrous series of events managed to boil the referee situation over the proverbial pot. Not really mentioned in all of this was the fact that Tate shoved a Packers player, a blatant offensive pass interference penalty. But that's because it's small potatoes compared to the refs whiffing on an obvious interception, making two totally different calls, screwing up the replay review (which they couldn't really review) and then finding themselves in the middle of an awkward disaster that wouldn't end because the Packers and Seahawks needed to be on the field for the final extra point.
This was the second straight week of Monday Night Football that featured a nightmare situation with the officials. "Normal" news stations (CNN, CBS News, Fox News, etc.) spent parts of the news day talking about the issue with the refs. It was going to be a problem for the league well before Monday night, but the NFL needed to get through the Seahawks-Packers game without a big-time mistake.
Instead, they got the biggest mistake of them all, and you have to wonder how long the league can stick with a situation big-time players like Drew Brees have called "horrendous" and "embarrassing."
Terms like "fabric of the game" and "integrity of the game" got thrown around too much during the early portions of this labor standoff. But those terms are finally applicable. It's hard to imagine that the league can stay with the replacement officials now that a game's been decided by a group of guys in stripes who are clearly overwhelmed with the speed, pace and general management of the NFL game.
Maybe it won't. The NFL's been pretty impressive when it comes to dealing with labor situations. But Aaron Rodgers was spot on when he stood at the podium after Green Bay's loss and said the final play "was just awful."
Hopefully it'll be enough to warrant making some actual progress to get the regular referees back on the field. A team finally lost a game as a result of the replacement officials and it's time to make a change.
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