Week three of the NFL season ended tonight in one of the most bizarre ways an NFL game has ended in years.
The Green Bay Packers (1-1) led the Seattle Seahawks (1-1) 12-7 with 8 seconds on the clock. Seattle had the ball at the Packers’ 24, 4th down, with no timeouts.
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson took the snap, scrambled to his left and fired off a Hail Mary pass into the corner of the end zone. Seattle WR Golden Tate clearly pushes off on GB corner Sam Shields and goes up for the jump ball. But Packers safety M.D. Jennings gets there first, grabs the ball and brings it to his chest. Tate gets an arm in and a hand on the ball, and both go to the ground. Tate appears to have his other hand on the ball from Jennings’ other side. It looks like an interception, and therefore a Green Bay win.
Here’s where it gets weird. Two officials converge on the play, one from the goal line and the other from the end line behind the play. The goal line ref signals touchdown, about a half second before the end line ref signals to stop the clock, which in that scenario is usually followed by a touchback signal due to an interception in the end zone. The officials don’t agree on which player had possession of the ball. That moment looked like this.
Because the goal line ref signaled first, the play was treated as a touchdown, handing Seattle the win, 13-12. But all scoring plays are reviewed by video now in the NFL, so the officials had the chance to get the call corrected. Or so it would seem. The head ref takes a look at the play, and quickly comes back out to rule that the touchdown stands. By rule, officials cannot review possession of the ball on a simultaneous catch, which was how the goal line ref ruled the play a Seattle touchdown. So the play stood, and the clock read 0:00.
Game over, right? Not exactly.
Both teams had cleared the field and headed to their locker rooms. But by rule, regulation time cannot end on a touchdown without an extra point try. Both teams had run off the field after the review confirming the touchdown call had handed Seattle the lead. They had to come back onto the field and go through the motions of the extra point. ESPN’s cameras captured GB’s Shields looking through a box of helmets to find one that fit him so he could stand around during the extra point play. I write “stand around,” because that’s all the Packers players did during that final play — they stood around in evident protest after the snap, not even bothering to try to block the kick. The elapsed time between the touchdown play and the extra point was about ten minutes.
The kick was good, final score Seattle 14-Green Bay 12. Seattle improved to 2-1 while the Packers fell to 1-2.
ESPN’s booth commentators, John Gruden and Mike Tirico, tore into the NFL for allowing the league’s lock-out of the league’s officials to get to the point where replacement officials literally changed the outcome of a game. On the Seahawks’ possession prior to the touchdown, the officials had called pass interference on Shields, when replays showed that the Seattle WR had been the guilty party. That call extended Seattle’s drive. The call on the last play changed the score decisively.
The wild ending to the Monday Night Football clash capped a week in which one replacement ref almost cost the Dallas Cowboys their game against Tampa Bay by tossing his hat into the path of Cowboys WR Kevin Ogletree as he got open in the end zone, causing Ogletree to slip and miss the pass from QB Tony Romo.
The replacement refs have become a running joke during the first three weeks of the season, getting calls wrong, misidentifying player numbers and adding time length to games while they figure out what calls to make. But the ending of the Packers-Seahawks game has to get the NFL’s attention. The best run sports league in the US had a very big mess on its hands.