|CenturyLink Field, the site of the game|
|Date||September 24, 2012|
|Favorite||Packers by 3|
|Announcers||Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden with Lisa Salters|
The 2012 Packers–Seahawks officiating controversy arose during the final play of an American football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL) that occurred on September 24, 2012 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. In a nationally-televised game on ESPN's Monday Night Football, the Seahawks defeated the Packers, 14–12, in controversial fashion.
On the final play of the game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone intended for wide receiver Golden Tate. Both Tate and Packers defender M. D. Jennings got their hands on the ball while attempting to gain possession. The two officials near the play initially gave separate rulings of touchdown and timeout, before ruling the players had simultaneous possession, resulting in a Seahawks game-winning touchdown. Prior to the catch, Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields with both hands, which the NFL later acknowledged should have drawn an offensive pass interference penalty that would have negated the touchdown and resulted in a Packers victory.
The controversial ending followed weeks of criticism regarding the quality of officiating by replacement officials employed by the NFL during the 2012 NFL referee lockout. Two days after the game, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association announced they had reached an agreement to end the lockout. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the negative attention the game drew to the referee situation was an impetus for ending the labor dispute.
Events of the play
With eight seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Packers led 12–7. The Seahawks possessed the ball at the Packers' 24-yard line with a fourth down-and-10 situation. On the final play of the game, Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the Packers end zone. Several Packers and Seahawks leapt to catch the ball, including Tate. Tate pushed off of Packers defender Sam Shields, knocking him to the ground, but did not draw an offensive pass interference penalty. As the players leapt, Packers safety M. D. Jennings appeared to grab the football with both arms as Tate reached into him to grab the ball with one arm. The NFL rule for simultaneous catch states, "If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. 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."
The two officials near the play conferred and then simultaneously made separate rulings; side judge Lance Easley raised his arms to signal touchdown, while back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn waved his arms to signal timeout. Contrary to popular fan belief, an interception in the end zone is not signaled by simply stopping the clock. Because this interception would have resulted in a touchback, the proper mechanic would have been that of a touchback, wherein one arm is waved above the head, or "half" of the timeout signal. Because Rhone-Dunn signaled "timeout" so as to stop the game clock (apparently unaware that time had already expired, effectively making this mechanic unecessary), Rhone-Dunn indicated that he desired further investigation of the play before rendering a verdict whereas Easley, from his angle, found sufficient evidence of a simultaneous catch with which to call a Rule 8.1.3 touchdown. At no point, however, did either official signal an interception. The ruling on the field was officially touchdown, with Tate and Jennings maintaining "simultaneous possession". By rule, simultaneous possession defers to the offensive player.
Replay official Howard Slavin initiated a video review, as is required of all scoring plays. According to an NFL press release after the game, "The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable." Referee Wayne Elliott determined that there was not adequate evidence to overturn the call, so the ruling stood as a touchdown. As the teams and sports media swarmed the field, the Packers left the field and reported to their locker room, but were required by officials to return to the field for a mandatory point after attempt per the NFL rules."
The officiating crew was widely criticized for the quality of officiating in the game. Monday Night Football announcer Jon Gruden said on-air, "This is comical to me. That's two of the worst calls at the end of a football game that I can remember." Former quarterback Warren Moon speculated that the game could be an impetus to resolving the labor dispute, saying, "This could be the game that gets a deal done. Something like this, on the league's biggest stage, on Monday night, it's just not good for the game. You could argue the officials had a hand in the outcome, that they cost Green Bay the game or would have cost the Seahawks." ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote, "In all, it was one of the most disorganized and embarrassing scenes you'll ever see on an NFL field. At least, so far." Las Vegas oddsmakers estimated that over $300 million in bets changed hands due to the final play. Offshore betting website SportsBook.ag announced that it would be refunding wagers for customers outside of the United States who bet on the Packers. In the wake of the controversial ending, ESPN's sports news program SportsCenter achieved its highest ratings ever, receiving a 5.0 overnight Nielsen rating. Reportedly, 70,000 voicemail messages were left at NFL offices by disgruntled fans.
Many NFL players commented on the ending, including several Packers players. Green Bay offensive lineman T. J. Lang tweeted after the game, "Got fucked by the refs.. Embarrassing. Thanks nfl." He later added, "Fuck it NFL.. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs," a message that was re-tweeted 92,314 times on September 26, breaking a Twitter record. Lang openly admitted that his team was considering going on strike if the lockout was not resolved. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded by saying, "First of all, I've got to do something that the NFL is not going to do: I have to apologize to the fans. Our sport is a multi-billion dollar machine, generated by people who pay good money to come watch us play. The product on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control." The day after the game, New Jersey State Senator Stephen Sweeney, a Packers fan, announced plans to introduce legislation banning replacement officials from working professional sporting events in New Jersey. Green Bay's mayor Jim Schmitt sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, stating, "As an elected official and public steward, I'm concerned about the impact on the integrity of the game and the significant financial effect that it may have upon our community." US President Barack Obama weighed in on the ending, calling it "terrible" and adding, "I've been saying for months, we've gotta get our refs back."
The winning catch has been referred to in the media by the nicknames Fail Mary and Inaccurate Reception, and Russell Wilson was referred to as having thrown a "game winning interception".
In an interview with TMZ three days after the game, side judge Lance Easley defended his touchdown ruling, saying "It was the correct call." When asked why it wasn't an interception, he said, "You have to not only have the ball but have either two feet or a body part on the ground, and that never happened." He later added, "Put any other official who knows the rules and they would make the same call." However, the day before Easley made that comment, locked out referee Walt Anderson, who has worked numerous NFL postseason games including two Super Bowls, said he would have ruled interception either on the field or under the hood. In addition, Bill Leavy, speaking on behalf of the locked out NFL officials including Ed Hochuli, said "they would have ruled Monday Night's would be an interception," and added "Like Ed, I've never seen one," referring to a simultaneous catch.
The NFL released an official statement that, while acknowledging that pass interference should have been called on Tate, supported the decision to uphold the play as simultaneous possession:
When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown.
Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.
Referee Wayne Elliott and the officials (who were the original officials in control of the instant replay) 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.
On September 26, 2012, two days after the game, an agreement was reached between the NFL and NFL Referees Association to end the 2012 NFL referee lockout that began in June 2012. The contentious nature of the replacement officials' decision at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game is widely considered to have been the tipping point that finally led to the agreement. Goodell acknowledged that the game "may have pushed the parties further along" in negotiations.
Various sports writers speculated on how this game would affect the standings for the rest of the regular season. For example, Kevin Seifert of ESPN frequently posted the playoff standings if the Packers had defeated the Seahawks instead. Ultimately, the Packers went on to win the NFC North division title with an 11–5 win–loss record, but finished with the third playoff seed behind the second-seeded 11–4–1 NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers, and thus Green Bay had to play in the Wild Card Round instead of receiving a first round bye. The Seahawks ended up with an 11–5 record and the fifth seed, ahead of the sixth-seeded 10–6 Minnesota Vikings; even if Seattle did not have that extra win, they would have still been the fifth seed seed at 10–6 because they held the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings. Both Green Bay and Seattle eventually were eliminated in the Divisional Playoff Round.
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- Game boxscore at pro-football-reference.com