September 25, 2012
If there was ever a doubt as to why it was time to bring the real officials back in the National Football League, look no further than what unfolded on Monday night in Seattle, where a travesty that changed the course of a game in its rawest form, wins and losses, took place. The NFL has gone so far as to defend the replacement officials under the guise that none of their incorrect calls or poor decisions directly impacted a game.
That changed irrevocably Monday night with one blown call.
Facing fourth down and 10 from the Green Bay 24 yard line with 8 seconds to play and trailing 12-7, Russell Wilson took the snap from center. Faced with heavy pressure, he rolled out and heaved the ball toward the corner of the end zone where a mass of humanity wearing opposing jerseys were crammed together. The Packers were looking for an interception, a knockdown, anything that had the ball either falling to the turf or in one of their players’ arms. The Seahawks were hoping for a miracle.
How does it work when both sides get what they’re looking for? In a simple one word answer: chaos.
Wilson’s pass was apparently intercepted by Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings, who came down with the ball cradled to his chest as he hit the ground. As Jennings reached the ground, Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate wrapped his arms around Jennings in an effort to try and pry the ball away. One official raised his hands to signal touchdown. Another ruled it an interception and a touchback. There was no clear cut consensus as to what the actual ruling on the field was for a couple minutes. The officials were digging through the pile trying to find out who actually had the ball at the bottom of the scrum.
By the time they got to the bottom, Tate had the ball, sprawled on the turf in the end zone of CenturyLink Field. The Packers were certain that the ball was intercepted and that Jennings let go of the ball after the official signaled a touchback. The ruling on the field was that it was a touchdown. Whether that call was based on the fact that Tate was left holding the ball or on the highly contemptible and ridiculously outdated concept of simultaneous possession going to the offensive team is a question that may never be answered.
The play went to the review booth, though at this point, reviewing the play had about as much of a chance of overturning it as a popsicle has staying frozen in hell. Could you imagine the rioting and ill will that would have erupted in Seattle had that been ruled an interception to give the Packers the victory in front of a capacity crowd of 68,218? It would take weeks to get that all figured out, not to mention how much money the taxpayers of King County would have been forced to shell out to deal with the fallout.
Let’s take a look at the play and try to figure out how it was ruled a catch and a touchdown in the first place:
First of all, it’s clear that Jennings has the ball at the apex of the ball’s trajectory. He comes crashing to the ground with it. It’s not until he’s almost to the ground that Tate even makes a move toward the ball in the first place. This is obviously showing that Jennings has possession and the ball should be ruled Green Bay’s and a touchback via interception, ending the game.
Second of all, there is no simultaneous possession involved here. Simultaneous possession involves both players having the ball at the same time. Going in and trying to lay claim to the ball after the fact, as Tate attempts to do, does NOT invoke simultaneous possession in any way, shape or form in the interpretation of the rules. If that worked, every time a defensive player picked off a pass, you’d see an offensive player try to grab the ball as they made a tackle in an effort to claim that simultaneous possession had been established. It’s lunacy on sheer standing and is a rule that the league needs to take a serious look at in the offseason. It’s clearly run its course.
Finally, let’s not overlook the other 800 pound elephant in the room: Tate blatantly committed offensive pass interference prior to the rest of that fiasco taking place. The replay clearly shows Tate shoving Packers defensive back Sam Shields in the back, pushing him to the ground. Had the officials been paying attention to anything going on, there would have been a yellow flag on the ground immediately and the rest of this would have been avoided. Offensive pass interference, number 81, ten yard penalty, replay the down, fourth down. As the game clock expired during the play and the penalty is against the offense, the game is over. Green Bay wins, 12-7, and while the Seahawks and their fans go home disgruntled, the call on the field is correct. This is obviously not what took place.
Instead, we get a confused ruling on the field, an interminably long booth review that alters nothing and a clear sign of how badly officiated and incompetently called games have been in the first three weeks of the season. This week alone saw Pittsburgh’s Ziggy Hood get injured on a blatant chop block by the Raiders in the final minute and the 49ers receive not one, but TWO extra challenges and timeouts from the officials in the second half. That doesn’t begin to factor in blown calls on several plays in the Tampa Bay/Dallas game that could have swung the pendulum of momentum or a handful of calls in other games throughout the league yesterday.
There were questionable pass interference calls on the defenses in the fourth quarter of the game Monday night. Kam Chancellor was flagged for a weak pass interference flag with less than 12 minutes to play on the drive that led to the only Packers touchdown of the night. Shields was flagged on a pass intended for Sidney Rice with Seattle facing a 1st and 25. That penalty covered 32 yards and moved Seattle to the Green Bay 25. The drive stalled on 4th and 3 from the Green Bay 7 on an incomplete pass with less than two minutes to play.
It was the second time in three weeks the Seahawks were involved in controversial fashion with officiating in the final minute of the game: they were given an extra timeout in their week one loss to the Cardinals, a game that was not decided until Braylon Edwards dropped a pass in the dying seconds that would have given Seattle the win. This time, a call from the officials gave Seattle a victory that they ultimately shouldn’t have had.
Maybe it was the football gods showing that karma does exist and what goes around comes around. After all, it was December 6, 1998, a time when the Seahawks still were residents of the AFC West, when they played a game at the Meadowlands against the New York Jets. Leading 31-26 with 27 seconds to go, Seattle had the Jets in a fourth and goal situation from the 5 yard line. Vinny Testaverde, sensing a hole in the Seattle defense, called a quarterback sneak. He attempted to leg it out for a game winning score but was brought down nearly a full yard shy of the end zone. His helmet reached the goal line and line judge Ernie Frantz put his arms up to signal a touchdown.
There was no instant replay at the time and even though CBS’ replays clearly showed Testaverde was nowhere near the end zone, the play stood. The Jets won the game, 32-31 and would go on to the AFC Championship Game where they were upended by Denver. The Seahawks finished the season 8-8, one game out of the playoffs; the one game they could have had if Frantz had called the play accurately. As referee Phil Luckett said afterwards: “We mistook his helmet for the football.”
There was no helmet to mistake for a football Monday night, nor was there any way around it. There was simply a blown call and a decision that altered the result of a game for two franchises. Whether it has any long term ramifications remains to be seen but it’s clear that there has been enough dancing around by the league and the officials. A deal needs to be struck and put in place sooner rather than later at this point in time. It’s imperative not only for the players and the fans but for the overall integrity of the game.
The end to Monday night’s game was a debacle of epic proportions on the biggest stage that the NFL has for the regular season, with a national audience viewing. It simply cannot sustain that kind of controversy in the game’s officiating. Something has to change and it has to change now.