Against all logic, NFL defends epic Fail Mary
The NFL on Tuesday defended the epic Fail Mary ruling of its replacement officials Monday night in Seattle.
The replacements were right. You, your eyes and your brain are wrong: The Immaculate Rejection.
Live with it.
In what already has gone down as one of the most controversial game-deciding calls in league history, the replacements awarded a Hail Mary touchdown catch to Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate with no time left.
The 24-yard scoring reception allowed the Seahawks to defeat the visiting Green Bay Packers, 14-12.
Most impartial viewers who have seen the play concluded, as the Packers damn well did, that Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings instead should have been awarded an interception.
Why else do you think some 70,000 phone messages were left at the league offices Tuesday?
Something stinks, and most people know it.
If the rules were adequately enforced, then the rules suck and need to be changed. And you can call the revision The Golden Rule.
I'm not convinced, however, that the replacement bozos on site -- led by referee Wayne Elliott -- and the NFL's own Officiating Department properly took into account the key stipulation in the rules that should have awarded an interception to Jennings, not a touchdown to Tate.
Jennings got both of his hands on the ball first; Tate did not.
Jennings never let go of the ball to reposition his grip on the way to the ground; Tate did, at least once.
Jennings did not have to reach back and rewrap his arms around the ball in a desperate, battling attempt to gain joint possession; Tate did.
Yet that all counted for nothing. Officials ruled Jennings did not have possession.
Intuitively, it just does not jibe.
The NFL released a lengthy statement at mid-day Tuesday, defending the touchdown call.
Salve for the offended: the league did admit that Tate "can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground" before the ball arrived, the NFL's statement said, and that "this should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay."
But sorry, Packers.
To summarize what we now know about the play:
- With eight seconds left and Green Bay up 12-7, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson heaved a desperation pass into the end zone.
- Jennings grabbed the ball first, and appeared to briefly have sole possession of it as players from both sides fought to get their hands on it. But as Jennings was coming down, Tate got one or both of his hands on the ball as well. At one point, replays clearly show Tate had his right hand and arm OFF the ball.
- Tate yanked Jennings down, and the two hit the ground. Jennings fell on top of Tate.
- Two replacement officials ran toward the pair, without making a call, as they continued fighting for the ball on the ground. Both players had their hands around it by then.
- A few seconds later, one official started to wave his arms over his head, as if he was about to motion for a touchback -- meaning interception. But the other official ruled touchdown, based on the simultaneous-catch rule (tie goes to the offence). The first official did not over-rule him.
- It's a travesty that referee Elliott did not huddle with those officials immediately, in an attempt to be sure the crew was getting the crucial on-field call correct. But because the NFL now has an on-site head-office official at each game, perhaps replacement referees don't feel so empowered, when it would be second nature for regular refs to huddle like that.
- The NFL's onsite replay official upstairs, Howard Slavin, ordered a review because, in the end zone only, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable.
- Referee Elliott -- not Slavin or anyone else upstairs -- reviewed the play and upheld the original call, as the Seahawks and nearly 70,000 fans went bonkers.
"I thought it was clearly an interception," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Tuesday in Green Bay.
"It's a very hard one to call," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told the NFL Network, but he added he thought the officials got the call correct.
The simultaneous-catch rule states:
"If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both retain it, the ball belongs to the (passing team)."
The rule further states, however: "It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control."
That is exactly what appeared to have happened.
Crucially, the NFL's statement implied, but stopped short of expressly stating, that Jennings did not gain control before Tate because a catch is not "completed" unless a falling, sole ball possessor such as Jennings maintains possession through the fall to the ground.
By the time Jennings hit the ground, Tate indeed had both hands on the ball, too.
But the simultaneous-possession exception, as written, would seem to account for the very circumstance that occurred Monday night in Seattle.
The Twittersphere, of course, immediately went insane. More than 14 hours later, ProFootballTalk.com's Michael Davis Smith tweeted, "Is anyone (media member, analyst, coach, anyone) saying the TD call was right? Usually you can find someone to argue anything. Not here."
It's now Tuesday evening as I write this. I just showed the replay to my nine-year-old daughter, then told her the refs said that the guy in blue caught it (Tate), not the guy in white (Jennings).
"Wow, that is STUPID," she said.
And walked away.