Wrapping up (for now) the MNF controversy

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
11:30
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Touchdown scored by Golden Tate against Green BayKirby Lee/US PresswireEven with the lockout over, issues remain over the call at the end of the Seahawks-Packers game.
Week 4 is nearly upon us, but Week 3 will not die.

Seattle Seahawks fans continue to present evidence attempting to validate replacement officials' controversial Monday night ruling on Golden Tate's disputed touchdown catch against Green Bay. The comments continue to pile up in the "Rapid Reaction" item published immediately following the game. We're past 5,000 and counting.

I'll address a few of the lingering issues here.

New visual evidence

Fans have pointed toward reverse-angle video of the play, as shot by local Seattle affiliate KCPQ.

Steve Gallo extrapolated stills from the video to show how Tate, not the Packers' M.D. Jennings, could have been the player coming down with the football. Here's a clearer still photo showing Tate's feet on the ground, Jennings' feet in the air and Tate's left arm between the ball and Jennings' body.

Another in-depth review of the footage reaches a similar conclusion: Tate had two feet down and Jennings had no feet down when both players controlled the ball.

My feeling watching the play live was that Jennings appeared to make the interception, but that replays were not conclusive. The reverse-angle footage and breakdowns strengthen my feeling that there wasn't enough evidence to reverse the call. There wouldn't have been clear enough evidence to overturn an interception ruling, either.

Jennings should have batted down the ball. Tate showed remarkable strength by grabbing the ball with only his left hand before getting his right hand on the ball later in the sequence.

Did Tate have his right hand back on the ball before Jennings established possession by getting both feet down? Did he need to have both hands on the ball? Are there degrees of possession? Does having two hands on the ball trump having one hand on the ball?

The NFL's statement on the play notes that "a player (or players) jumping in the air has not legally gained possession of the ball until he satisfies the elements of a catch."

Those elements are satisfied when a player:

  • "Secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground." Note the plural. Hands or arms. Not hand or arm. Is that a meaningful distinction, or semantics?
  • "Touches the ground inbounds with both feet or any body part other than his hands." Tate did this before Jennings did this, but did he have the ball?
  • "Maintains control of the ball long enough to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.)."

The league also cited the rule governing a simultaneous catch.

"If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers," the rule reads. "It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control."

The 2011 rulebook contains an example that does not appear in the 2012 version. The example from the 2011 rulebook falls under a "not a simultaneous catch" heading. It reads, "First-and-10 on A20. B3 controls a pass in the air at the A40 before A2, who then also controls the ball before they land. As they land, A2 and B3 fall down to the ground."

[+] EnlargeMike McCarthy
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenM.D. Jennings appeared to have both hands on the ball, but Golden Tate landed first.
Rulebooks change from year to year. The rule for simultaneous catches did not change, to my knowledge. The removal of this example from 2011 to 2012 might not be significant. Update: While the same example does not appear in the 2012 rulebook, it is part of the 2012 casebook, so it survives.

We know Jennings appeared more likely than Tate to have both hands on the ball. Tate definitely got both feet down inbounds before Jennings did.

A league spokesman told me Tuesday that the NFL "could not determine whether [the call] was correct."

All of us can reach the conclusion we want to reach if we're thorough enough in seeking evidence to support our claims. That goes for the players, too.

"I think everyone in the country, except for people who live in Seattle, saw it as an interception," St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford told reporters Wednesday.

And this from Arizona's Kevin Kolb: "Well, it was upsetting, because it does affect us. In my eyes, it was clearly an interception. Just like anybody else around, it's something that doesn’t sit well with us, because it directly affects us. That’s unfortunate at this level."

Offensive pass interference

Tate has admitted getting away with offensive pass interference before making the catch.

Some have correctly noted that officials generally do not call pass interference in Hail Mary situations, the implication being that replacement officials handled that call the way regular ones would have handled it.

I've gone through officiating records and found a few examples.

  • The New York Giantswon their 2001 home opener against New Orleans, 21-13, when officials nullified a Saints touchdown pass on the final play. The call was offensive pass interference. The pass covered only nine yards, however. This wasn't a Hail Mary heave."Referee Terry McAulay, who did most of the talking during today's Saints-Giants game, had one last speaking part," New York Times reporter Bill Pennington wrote. "McAulay announced a pass-interference penalty on [Willie] Jackson -- the last of 25 infractions called in the game -- nullifying the play. McAulay also declared the game over."
  • The Miami Dolphins lost their 2008 season opener, 20-14, after referee Mike Carey's crew called offensive pass interference against Ted Ginn Jr. on a play beginning with 10 seconds left. The Jets' Darrelle Revis picked off the pass, diminishing the impact of the penalty flag."The Dolphins started from their 39 with 1:43 left," The Associated Press story said. "They reached the Jets' 18, but when [Chad] Pennington tried to hit Ted Ginn Jr. in the corner of the end zone, Revis had position and made a one-handed interception."
  • Tampa Bay was trailing 33-20 during a 2009 Week 2 defeat to Buffalo when referee Ron Winter's crew called receiver Mark Clayton for offensive interference in the end zone on a deep throw in the final seconds. The pass fell incomplete.
  • In 2005, referee Peter Morelli's crew called Green Bay's Terrence Murphy for offensive interference with 19 seconds left, but this was on a 4-yard pass. The Packers scored on the next play, but still lost to Cleveland, 26-24.
  • In 2003, McAulay's crew called Atlanta's Peerless Price for offensive pass interference with 14 seconds left, but the Falcons trailed by a 31-10 score and nature of the pass -- short, deep, etc. -- was not noted in the gamebook.

The bottom line: Officials rarely call offensive pass interference in Hail Mary situations. I also cannot recall a receiver in a similar situation interfering as blatantly as Tate did in this one.

The Seahawks' response

Tate's initial postgame reaction seemed flippant.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said more than once after the game regarding his obvious interference.

Coach Pete Carroll then struck an unsympathetic tone when he laughed at the controversy during an interview with 710ESPN Seattle. I used the word "unapologetic" to describe Carroll's stance. Unsympathetic would have been a better word.

Carroll and the Seahawks owe no apologies to anyone. Their defense played well enough to win the game. The officials ruled in their favor. The NFL upheld the game's outcome.

Packers guard Josh Sitton and others have suggested Seattle should have at least acknowledged its good fortune.

Carroll sounded much more sympathetic Wednesday. He opened his news conference with unsolicited comments on the matter.

"The first thing I want to get across is that I understand," Carroll said. "In all the years of coaching, we’ve been through this situation so many times, on both sides of the issues and it’s been always so difficult when it doesn’t work out. These games are so important, so crucial and so hard to come by and get wins that we fight across the board in the league with everything to make our way to a win, and it hurts when you don’t get it done.

"It’s awesome when you do. We just know that’s it really hard to be on the other side of this thing, and I’m sensitive to that and understand that."

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