One Horrible Call May End the NFL Referee Lockout

Football fans are beside themselves after a crew of replacement officials — subbing for referees who are locked out by the NFL — took away a victory from the Green Bay Packers with a controversial call on the last play of the game.

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Football fans are angry after a crew of replacement officials — subbing for referees who are locked out by the NFL — took away a victory from the Green Bay Packers with a controversial call on the last play of the game. The first three weeks of the NFL season have been plagued by poor officiating, as inexperienced and occasionally incompetent officials have botched calls, misinterpreted rules, and even failed the simplest tasks, like counting off the yards on penalties. But last night's Monday Night Football game in Seattle is the first close game to definitively swing on an incorrect call and may finally force the NFL to settle its labor dispute with the regular officials.

So what happened, exactly? Trailing 12-7 with just 8 seconds remaining, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary into the end zone in a last ditch effort to the win game. Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept the pass in a scrum of players as time expired, but Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate — who got away with offensive pass interference just before the ball arrived —managed to get one arm around the ball as the two players went to the ground. While one referee in the end zone appeared to signal interception, another standing right next to him signaled touchdown. Even though Jennings had the greater claim to the catch, the play was ruled a score for Seattle giving them a 14-12 victory.

Fans, analysts, and the Green Bay players and coaches were mad. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it "awful" and the most bitter loss of his career. And he was the polite one. Many of his Packer teammates had much harsher things to say on Twitter, where players are normally hesitant to speak openly against referees for fear of incurring fines and other punishments.

That pretty much sums it up. ESPN analysts, also normally hesitant to criticize the league so openly, were equally livid, accusing the NFL of undermining its own integrity and threatening the entire sport. (Gamblers weren't too happy either, as Green Bay was a 3.5-point favorite.)

A labor dispute has kept the normal referees on the sidelines all season, but being unable to recruit top college football referees as replacements, the league has been forced to settle for the bottom tier of college and high school officials and those from lesser leagues like the Arena League and even the Lingerie Football League (where last night's refs worked before they were fired!) The NFL had hoped that the games would go on as normal while they put pressure on their workers to cave, but nearly every team has suffered from questionable judgement calls and the confused, overwhelmed referees at some point this season. And we're only in Week 3. This latest debacle, on an important, nationally televised game, may finally be the push the league needs to settle their contract fight and get the regular refs back on the field.

UPDATE: The NFL released a statement this afternoon saying that even though Tate did commit pass interference (which should have ended the game), they support the decision by the replay booth to not overrule the call on the field. After reviewing the incident league officials determined that there was "no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call" and "the result of the game is final." That doesn't mean they think the correct call was made on the field, just that the rules didn't allow them to do anything about it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.