SEATTLE -- The reigning NFL Most Valuable Player and a vicious Seattle Seahawks defense were no match Monday night for the seven guys in stripes.
Russell Wilson's 24-yard desperation heave for the Seattle Seahawks' winning touchdown against the Green Bay Packers? No match, either. Perhaps Golden Tate really did catch the pass. I thought the Packers' M.D. Jennings intercepted it, but it was a close call. Tate definitely shoved Green Bay's Sam Shields out of the way before the ball arrived, but why sweat the details?
"They said simultaneous catch, which goes to the offense," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know which guy said it. Somebody said it."
Good enough for Carroll, but it wasn't that simple. While Jennings appeared to get the ball first, what mattered most was which player had the ball when they came to the ground. Tate might have prevailed by that measure, though it was tough to say for certain.
One official standing over Tate, Jennings and a mass of bodies responded by waving his arms over his head, as if to signal for a clock stoppage or a touchback. There was no time left on the clock and the players were in the end zone, so stopping the clock shouldn't have been a concern, but hey, let's not pick nits here.
Besides, the other official standing by signaled a touchdown.
"The ruling on the final play was simultaneous catch," referee Wayne Elliott told pool reporter Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times. "Reviewed by replay. Play stands."
Touchdown, it was, pending the customary review. There would be no reversal, but when Elliott declared the game over, he wasn't quite right. While Carroll gave interviews on the field and players headed for the showers, officials stood over the ball at the Green Bay 2-yard line, huddling away. They apparently didn't know the rule compelling teams to attempt even meaningless conversions. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka would make the point-after try, turning a 13-12 victory into a 14-12 victory. But hey, who cares about a point except for gamblers everywhere?
The Packers, upon returning to their locker room for a second and final time, threw towels at a video monitor while watching replays of the final play. Even the Seahawks knew officiating had overshadowed what could have been a memorable game on the merits. Elliott, umpire Marc Harrod, head linesman Mike Peek, line judge Tommy Keeling, side judge Lance Easley, field judge Richard Simmons (not that Richard Simmons) and back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn assessed 24 penalties for 245 yards -- more yardage than Seattle managed (238) and nearly as much as Green Bay finished with (268).
Officiating left the Packers furious while threatening to cheapen what should have been an all-time great finish.
"I think that hurts the game," Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said. "The sooner we can have back our real officials, I think the integrity of the game is too important not to get them back."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy declined to discuss officiating, but the part about having to return to the field minutes after the game had supposedly ended? Well ...
"I've never see anything like that in all of my years of football," McCarthy said.
Now, the regular officials messed up plenty, of course. They've blinded a player with an errant penalty flag, botched a coin toss, awarded a phantom touchdown and so much more.
In a hilarious twist, the NFL made available a comment from its officiating supervisor. The name of that supervisor? Phil Luckett. Yes, that Phil Luckett. The same one who botched the coin toss. The same one who awarded a phantom touchdown to Vinny Testaverde and the New York Jets against Seattle back in 1998.
"The PAT is an extension of the game, so we have to finish the game," Luckett said. "A touchdown on the last play you have to do the extra point, in regulation."
Alas, this wasn't the first time a referee had to summon players back from the locker rooms to kick a meaningless extra point with no time remaining.
Carroll was with the New England Patriots in 1998 when they, having scored the winning touchdown on the disputed final play of regulation, scored a conversion without opposition. The Buffalo Bills declined to participate. That time, the 2-point conversion changed the final margin from two points to four in a game the Patriots were favored to win by somewhere in between.
There was never anything untoward about that situation, of course, and I'm not suggesting anything was awry Monday night. But perceptions matter and when crazy things happen week after week, game after game, crazy thoughts occur. What would any of these replacement officials have to lose?
"It's time for this to be over," Carroll said. "My hat's off to these officials. They're doing everything they can to do as well as they can. They’re working their tails off. It demonstrates how difficult it is.
"It’s a very, very complex process to handle these games and make these decisions. There’s nothing easy about it, and it takes years and years of experience to pull it off properly and in a timely fashion and to keep the flow of the game alive and all that and it’s time for it to be over. The league deserves it, everybody deserves it."
The Packers deserve it. They still can't get over the Tate call.
"From my view, I saw the referee in the back waving his arms, which means he is calling a touchback," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "No idea how the other guy said touchdown. Golden Tate, on the replay, he takes his arm off the part of the ball that he may or may not have had, and they reviewed it and it was upheld."
Waving hands overhead signals a clock stoppage. Following that signal by swinging an arm at the side signals a touchback. Throwing towels at the video montitor in the visitors' locker room signals incredulity.
"If you asked Golden Tate to take a lie-detector test and ask him did he catch that ball or did M.D. catch that ball, that M.D. caught that," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. "It was clear as day. The officials did a great job out there today."
Tate did not not submit to a lie-detector test afterward. He kept a straight face, for the most part, when saying he knew he caught the ball. The exchange between Tate and reporters in the Seahawks' locker room bordered on comical.
Did he catch the ball?
"Yes, I think so."
But replays seemed to show Jennings getting to the ball first.
"Maybe he did, but I took it from him."
What about that push-off?
"I don't know what you're talking about. I just went up and competed."
Tate, like everyone else, initially had no idea what had happened.
"I didn't know if they called touchdown, interception, incompletion," Tate said. "I didn't know what was going on."
Welcome to the new NFL.