The NFL backed its replacement officials Tuesday on the Seattle Seahawks’ controversial touchdown catch Monday night, announcing that it would not overturn the outcome of the team’s last-second win over the Green Bay Packers. But it said the officials botched a call on the same play that would have ended the game with a victory by the Packers.
In a written statement, the league said it agreed with the decision by an on-field replacement referee that there was “no indisputable visual evidence” to reverse the ruling that Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings caught the ball simultaneously.
The play almost immediately intensified calls for the NFL to put its regular officials back on the field. Replacement officials have worked the first three weeks of NFL games, with the members of the NFL Referees Association locked out by the league in a labor dispute.
The league did say the game-winning touchdown should have been nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty on Tate for pushing Green Bay defensive back Sam Shields prior to the catch. A flag for that infraction would have ended the game. But the failure of replacement officials to make that call is not reviewable and the result of the game will stand, the league said in its statement.
“While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground,” the league’s written statement said. “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.”
The league also added: “The result of the game is final.”
Tate’s catch came on the game’s final play from scrimmage. The extra point that followed, some 10 minutes later, gave the Seahawks a 14-12 win.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the NFL and representatives for its locked-out referees negotiated into the night in an effort to end their dispute, according to several people familiar with the talks. The talks already had been scheduled before Monday night’s controversy, one person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
That person said he didn’t believe the furor would have a significant impact on the negotiations.Another person close to the talks said the owners of the 32 NFL teams are firmly opposed to making any further concessions.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league attorney Jeff Pash were among the participants in Tuesday’s negotiations, another person said.
The league and NFL Referees Association have been at odds over salaries, pensions and non-economic issues. Several people familiar with the negotiations have said in recent days that pensions have emerged as the top issue separating the two sides. The referees have been asking for an annual contribution of $38,500 per official to their pension plan, which the NFL considers too generous for part-time employees, according to one person with knowledge of the talks.
One person familiar with the negotiations said Monday, before the controversy in Seattle, that a deal was unlikely this week but could be within reach next week. But even that was uncertain, the person said.
A former NFL front-office executive said Tuesday he remained skeptical that the public outcry over the missed call Monday night would lead the NFL to make major concessions in the negotiations with the locked-out referees to get them back on the field.
“They are a reactive group,” the former executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. “They do react to what’s on the [television] networks, what’s in the newspapers. But with money, they can dig in. They consider this group they’re dealing with [the referees] to be unreasonable. I don’t think they’ll cave in. They’ll compromise, but they won’t cave in.”
One person familiar with the league’s deliberations over the catch said there is no mechanism that would enable the league to reverse the call by replacement officials that gave the Seahawks the victory. The NFL’s rule book says that teams cannot protest the outcome of a game.
The rule book does give NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the authority to reverse a game’s result or order it replayed from any point if an “extraordinary act” has occurred.
But the rule book appears to limit the commissioner’s authority to take such a step to “any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity [that] occurs in an NFL game which he deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.”
The rule book says the commissioner “will not apply his authority in cases of complaints by clubs concerning judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game officials. Games involving such complaints will continue to stand as completed.”
Former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker said an erroneous call by the replacements that decided a game was bound to happen sooner or later.
“I think the biggest shame of it is that anybody with half a brain could see this coming,” said Tucker, who played for the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. “If you watched the preseason games, if you watched the first two weeks of regular season games, it was inevitable.”
Tucker said he thinks the controversy could spur a resolution between the league and the regular officials.
“I do think they’ll get something done in the next few days because of the pressure,” Tucker said. “But it’s so frustrating, because why did it have to come to this? This could have been done last week. Maybe the league was hoping this wouldn’t happen, or it wouldn’t be this bad if it did happen. But you could see it coming from a mile away. They could have avoided this train wreck and yet they chose not to.”
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