Updated at 1 p.m. with NFL upholding result
The NFL’s use of replacement referees in a labor dispute went from a growing annoyance for fans and coaches to a full-blown controversy with a call at the end of the game that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Coaches have been fined for their criticism of referees, pulled from the lower tiers of college football, ever since the NFL announced that it would use them for the regular season with a lockout that began in June showing no signs of ending.
But, on “Monday Night Football,” referees ruled that a pass intended for Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate as time expired was a touchdown and not an interception by M.D. Jennings. One referee signaled a touchdown, another a touchback. Chaos, as it so often has during games this season, reigned. The NFL’s safety net, officials reviewing plays from the booth, failed to correct the call and gave Seattle the 14-12 win. (ESPN”s Jay Crawford has the key screengrab; SB Nation has the gif.)
This is the first time that the outcome of a game was so clearly decided — and decided wrongly — by replacement referees. By early afternoon, the NFL had upheld the final result of the game, saying in a statement only that Tate should have been flagged for offensive pass interference (which would have negated the touchdown).
Fans were calling for players to walk off the job, but that won’t happen, George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFL Players Association, said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” show.
“We can’t unilaterally end this lockout [because of the collective bargaining agreement],” he said. “It’s interesting that fans are turning to us to resolve this issue when we aren’t the ones who started it in the first place.”
The Packers were shellshocked as they addressed the media. Coach Mike McCarthy had little to say, mindful of the NFL’s warning not to speak out about refs and the fine levied against Denver Broncos Coach John Fox on Monday for the Sept. 17 “Monday Night Football” debacle.
“I was told M.D. Jennings had the ball,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years in football.”
“Got [expletive] by the refs.. Embarrassing. Thanks nfl,” Lang said in a tweet that has been retweeted almost 63,000 times. “Any player/coach in Seattle that really thinks they won that game, Lang tweeted, “has zero integrity as a man and should be embarrassed.
“That was [expletive],” Sitton tweeted. “This is getting ridiculous! The NFL needs to get the refs back bfr we strike and they make no money!”
Tom Crabtree tweeted that “the 13th man beat us tonight” and “Imagine you make a painting. It isn't perfect by others' standards, but it's your painting. You are proud. Then someone takes [an expletive] on it.”
Immediately after the game, Tate was sticking to his story that he’d come up with the ball. “I know I had the ball in my hands the entire — from the moment that it was catchable. I had my hands on the ball, just fought for it and tried to come down with it.”
Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll, happy as he was with the win, wasn’t totally oblivious to what had happened. “It’s time for [the lockout] to be over. The league deserves it. Everybody deserves it.”
ESPN pundits were not so kind. “The NFL has insulted my intelligence and your intelligence,” former quarterback Trent Dilfer said.
And Steve Young, who has been so smart in his criticism of the league all along, put it best:
“The NFL is too good for this, too big for this. It’s too hard to watch.”