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Seahawks, Packers and Refs: Oh, My!

Garth Henson
25 Sep 2012

I was one of the stunned Seahawks fans left in a very uncomfortable position after Monday night’s contested win against the Green Bay Packers – excited over the win but with a sour taste over how it went down. If you’re living under a rock somewhere and haven’t heard about the controversy, or if you simply care absolutely nothing for football and are reading this out of sheer boredom, let’s review the tension in the league building up to this climactic altercation.

Back in August the NFL refs union began negotiating with the NFL once again, but as everyone in the football world can tell you, it was too little, too late. The season began with the NFL bringing in inexperienced replacement refs who have been, shall we say, struggling to meet the challenge and call clean games – though in their defense, I’m sure they’re doing the best job they can under the circumstances. Suffice to say that there has been tremendous pressure poured out on these refs, and they have been the focal point of mounting tensions as questionable calls have been piling up during these first few weeks of the season.

The most recent – and definitely most controversial – of these calls was in awarding the Seattle Seahawks the winning touchdown catch in the final seconds of their game against the Packers on Monday. The Hail Mary play incorrectly called resulted in – by all casual observation – an interception by M.D. Jennings; however, when Jennings landed, Golden Tate was wrestling him for the ball, and as the dust settled, two officials converged on the scene with split decisions. As the first ref was apparently calling for a touchback, the second signalled a touchdown instead, to the joy of all Seahawks and fans. Celebration of honest fans (including Marshawn Lynch, according to a previously linked article) quickly died off as the replays showed the obvious error in calling for the score.

After my initial excitement over the unexpected win, emotional detachment set in, and I wanted to see if I could determine why such an obvious interception could be so blatantly mishandled by the refs. Having played football through junior high and high school and following both college and pro ball for years, I like to think I know the game pretty well, but I thought this an appropriate situation to review the rulebook. If you have about 10 minutes to do the reading yourself, I recommend some not-so-light reading of the official NFL rules concerning passing, completion and interceptions. The two pieces that were nagging at me were the references by both refs and commentators to completion and simultaneous possession.

According to the NFL rulebook, a completion is awarded when the receiver has made contact with the ground and retained possession of the ball. In light of this, I can see why an official may have called in the simultaneous possession article into play, since Jennings’ feet were not on the ground before Tate had both hands on the ball as well. This rule states that anytime simultaneous possession occurs during a pass, possession is always granted to the passing team. Now, I still believe that, in the spirit of the game, Jennings had control of the ball, but I’m trying to find a little wiggle room for the official’s call – as any good Seahawks fan should do.

Where things get a little mor interesting, though, is when we question why the call was not overturned by the senior officiating referee. In and NFL article published this morning, a very interesting statement makes things much clearer, though this little tidbit will probably be overlooked by the crazed fans arguing the injustice of the call:

The rulebook also states when a simultaneous catch is ruled, you can’t review who made the catch. You can only review if it was complete or incomplete.

Now, this is interesting, because it basically states that, even after review, the possession call – granted to Tate – cannot be overturned. The only review is whether or not the pass was indeed completed – which even the most hard-nosed Packers fan will not argue. So, while the call still reeks of being bogus, let’s at least give the senior official props for being by-the-book on the review. Besides, they did make the Packers return from the locker room for the extra point attempt (which was good).

So, from this fan’s perspective, we should not have won the game, but not due to the simultaneous possession call. Rather, good ol’ Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference just before going up for the final catch. The game should have been over before the reception battle began, and apparently – based on their official response, the NFL agrees.

Go Seahawks!

Garth Henson
Garth is as a lead engineer at The Walt Disney Company, specializing in JavaScript applications.

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