Can we now, in unison and without debate, agree that the NFL's plan to replace its locked-out officials has failed spectacularly and embarrassingly, undermining the credibility of the league and -- after two months of nervous anticipation -- directly affecting the outcome of a game?
That's the only possible reaction after watching the final play of the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 victory Monday night over the Green Bay Packers. I guess you can debate all the calls and potential mistakes that happened earlier in the game, from wildly inconsistent pass interference judgments to a failure to remove a "K" ball from the field on the Packers' failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. But there is no question that Monday night's crew of replacement officials erred repeatedly on the play in question, then lost control of the teams in one of the most chaotic scenes in recent NFL history.
The NFL's attempt to patch together a competent group of officials was destined to fail the moment that Division I college officials either declined to join or were prevented from joining the effort. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the NFL's deep and nuanced rulebook, not to mention the speed of the professional game, knew that recruiting low-level college officials, Arena League castoffs and Lingerie League part-timers was destined to fail at the highest level of the game.
This is not to say the league is solely at fault for the labor impasse with its regular officials. It takes two to tango in any stalemate, and both sides deserve some blame for the failure to sign a new working agreement.
But the NFL's stance was built in part on the flawed belief that it could cover well enough for the time being. It could not, of course, and its willingness to allow the arrangement to continue revealed an economic hubris reserved for only the biggest of American corporations. Ticket sales have remained steady and television ratings have continued to set records, providing no big-picture incentive for the league to cave to its regular officials' demands.
Will anything change after Monday night? Based on the way Twitter lit up in the moments after Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was awarded a 24-yard touchdown reception, I'm not sure. If you think that any publicity is good publicity, the NFL scored a cynical public relations coup Monday night. More people are discussing the NFL, and drawn to it, than ever.
The entire nation saw one of the league's premier franchises lose a game in a way that should not have occurred. Tate committed a blatant offensive pass-interference penalty in clearing cornerback Sam Shields out of his area, and Packers safety M.D. Jennings appeared to have possession of the ball for what would have been called an interception.
In a photograph that will live in infamy, one official ruled the play a touchdown and the other a touchback.
Neither looked as if he wanted to make the call.
The NFL got what it deserved Monday night, and unfortunately the Packers were the victims.