NFL Nation: officiating

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, frustrated over the absence of a late pass-interference call in Super Bowl XLVII, might not embrace a stat ESPN's John Clayton dug up for his latest "Inside the Huddle" video (above). I can help on that front, however.

"In the past 110 playoff games," Clayton reports, "there have been only one defensive holding call and two pass interference calls in the final two minutes."

Good note, and as Clayton reveals, one of those defensive pass interference calls went against the 49ers' Tarell Brown in the divisional playoffs this season.

What about the other one? Glad I asked.

The other pass-interference penalty during the final two minutes of a playoff game helped the Seattle Seahawks force overtime against Green Bay in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field following the 2003 season. Referee Bernie Kukar's crew flagged Packers linebacker Nick Barnett for holding Seahawks tight end Itula Mili on a third-and-goal play from the 6-yard line. Fifty-nine seconds remained in regulation. The pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Mili had fallen incomplete. The Packers led, 27-20.

The penalty against Barnett gave the Seahawks first-and-goal from the 1. Shaun Alexander scored on the next play and the game went to overtime, where the Packers won on Al Harris' interception return.

So, there is at least some precedent for officials to call pass interference in a goal-to-go situation during the final minutes of a tightly-contested playoff game.

"I would say it exactly like Bill Polian," Harbaugh told 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. "A penalty is a penalty no matter when it occurs in a game. It could occur in the first play of the game. It could occur on the last play of the game, or any play in between. That's the rules of football."
The Super Bowl officiating horse isn't quite dead, but it's taking a pounding. There's no reason to keep pounding it without advancing the conversation.

Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating vice president working for Fox, advanced it during a recent conversation with KNBR radio in San Francisco. The transcript from sportsradiointerviews.com highlights a few reasons why Pereira thought officials were correct in calling no penalty against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith on the 49ers' fourth-and-goal pass for Michael Crabtree in the final minutes:
  • No holding: The ball was in the air when Smith and Crabtree were contacting one another, according to Pereira. That eliminates holding or illegal contact as possible calls. Pass interference then becomes the only potential call. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was pleading for a holding call after the play.
  • No protest: Crabtree did not demonstrably plead for a penalty flag after the play. Players often complain even when there's no foul. The absence of a complaint in such a high-stakes situation suggests Crabtree had none.
  • Fade route: There's usually going to be contact on a fade route, Pereira noted. The rulebook reads, "If there is any question whether player contact is incidental, the ruling should be no interference."
  • Speed of game: Pereira thought slow-motion replays exaggerate the effects of contact. He pointed to analyst Phil Simms' initial reactions to the real-time play as accurate.

I would have appreciated a more technical review of pass interference rules. Pereira referred to "any type of material restriction that would’ve kept Crabtree from making the catch" as the standard. He specifically singled out the term "material restriction" as appearing in the rulebook. My version of the rulebook uses that phrase in association with illegal blocks, not in relation to interference.

My version of the rulebook outlines the following acts as pass interference, among others that are not listed:
  • Contact by a player who is not playing the ball that restricts the opponent's opportunity to make the catch.
  • Playing through the back of an opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
  • Grabbing an opponent's arm(s) in such a manner that restricts his opportunity to catch a pass.
  • Extending an arm across the body of an opponent, thus restricting his ability to catch a pass, and regardless of whether the player committing such act is playing the ball.
  • Hooking an opponent in an attempt to get to the ball in such a manner that it causes the opponent's body to turn prior to the ball arriving.
  • Initiating contact with an opponent by shoving or pushing off, thus creating a separation in an attempt to catch a pass.

The rulebook then outlines the following acts, among others that are unnamed, as "permissible" ones:
  • Incidental contact by an opponent's hands, arms or body when both players are competing for the ball, or neither player is looking for the ball. If there is any question whether contact is incidental, the ruling shall be no interference.
  • Inadvertent tangling of feet when both players are playign the ball or neither player is playing the ball.
  • Contact that would normally be considered pass interference, but the pass is clearly uncatchable by the involved players, except as specified in 8-3-2 and 8-5-4 pertaining to blocking downfield by the offense.
  • Laying a hand on an opponent that does not restrict him in an attempt to make a play on the ball.
  • Contact by a player who has gained position on an opponent in an attempt to catch the ball

A notation beneath this section then specifies that eligible offensive and defensive players have the same right to the path of the ball and are subject to the same restrictions.
A quick layover in Denver allowed me to rejoin the Super Bowl aftermath conversation via Twitter.

Officiating remained prominent on San Francisco 49ers fans' minds. That's fine by me. Even if you think the Baltimore Ravens played better and deserved to win Super Bowl XLVII -- that is my view, even though expressing it caused one guy to click Twitter's unfollow button in frustration -- there is no rule against discussing how officiating affected the game.

We'll see for years to come clips of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pleading for a holding call against Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith on the 49ers' last-ditch attempt to win the game on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. It's a permanent part of the conversation.

Win probability calculations showed the 49ers having a 32 percent chance of winning the game before that fourth-and-5 play. The incomplete pass dropped the 49ers' chances to 6 percent. The change of 26 percentage point was the largest for any play in the game, according to Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information.

A penalty against the Ravens would have given the 49ers first-and-goal from the 1-yard line with one timeout remaining. Their win probability would have jumped to 55 percent in that situation. The difference between 6 percent with no call and 55 percent with a call made the officials' ruling worth about one-half of a victory.

Some have also asked about the play when the Ravens blatantly held multiple 49ers players in the end zone, allowing Baltimore punter Sam Koch to run time off the clock before taking a safety. Officials clearly should have flagged the Ravens for holding on the play. While doing so would not have changed the result of the play, officials are supposed to call penalties when they see them regardless of circumstances to promote the integrity of the game. It's not their job to determine whether a penalty would really matter.

Questions about calls that mattered gain more traction amid evidence officials looked the other way in other situations.

One more thing: Rules would have allowed the 49ers to call for a fair catch on the Ravens' free kick following the safety. Doing so would have compelled San Francisco to attempt a field goal on the next play -- in this case, from the San Francisco 19-yard line.

The Arizona Cardinals tried this unsuccessfully during a 2008 season against the New York Giants. In such a case, the kicking team can execute a drop kick or a use a holder, but all kicks must be executed without a tee. Also, there would be no snap on these plays. Defensive players would have to stand 10 yards off the ball while the kicking team attempted the try.

Boger gets high marks from his doubter

February, 4, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- The officiating website footballzebras.com made headlines before Super Bowl XLVII by questioning Jerome Boger's appointment to the game as referee.

Despite complaints from San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Boger and his crew members got high marks from the website for their handling of the game.

Footballzebras.com founder Ben Austro's only significant complaint was for failing to limit post-play antics. Austro thought the Ravens' Cary Williams should have been ejected for shoving an official. But the interference and holding penalties Harbaugh wanted called against Baltimore during the game's frantic final moments did not represent errors in officiating, according to the website.

"When a receiver runs a route right at a defensive back and bumps him, there is an acceptable amount of holding that does happen, because the receiver initiated the holding," Austro wrote. "In this case, there was mutual pushing, so it all waves off. There needed to be a more egregious restriction of the receiver in order to draw a foul."

Former NFL officiating boss Mike Pereira, now a Fox analyst, also supported the non-call in that situation. My own view was that throwing a flag would have been worse than not throwing one. The play was still frustrating from a 49ers standpoint. Anyone in Harbaugh's situation would have wanted a call as well.

"Together, it was an even-called game," Austro wrote. "The points of disagreement were true judgment calls; there wasn’t anything that really moved out of a gray area throughout the game."

A closer look at Super Bowl referee

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
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NEW ORLEANS -- Jerome Boger is the referee assigned to work Super Bowl XLVII.

Don't yawn just yet.

The NFL's handling of the assignment, while already under unprecedented scrutiny, will become a much bigger story if an officiating miscue influences the outcome between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Boger's assignment to the game has generated controversy amid accusations the NFL reversed eight negative marks from his report card.

The implication, spelled out by the officiating website footballzebras.com, is that the NFL went out of its way to assign Boger to the game in the interests of promoting racial diversity. The NFL has denied this happened.

Footballzebras.com has taken officiating coverage to new levels in a short period of time. We're left wondering to what degree the Boger report reflects legitimate concerns or sour grapes from anonymously quoted officials feeling jilted over their own standing within the officiating hierarchy.

Whatever the case, Boger finds himself under unusual pregame scrutiny through no fault of his own. He worked the 49ers' divisional-round victory over Green Bay without incident. He previously worked three other divisional-round games. He has never worked a conference championship game or Super Bowl.

As we noted back in October, Boger's crews have called a league-high number of holding penalties against interior defensive linemen. That was notable at the time because New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had recently suggested 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding opponents to free up outside linebacker Aldon Smith for sacks.

Boger's crew has called a league-high 18 holding penalties against defensive linemen since 2008. That is about triple the average and six more than runner-up Ed Hocholi's crew. Boger's crew called zero such penalties this season, however. Crew tendencies can be difficult to discern because officals work a relatively small number of games. Also, regular-season trends might not hold up because the NFL shifts to all-star crews for the playoffs.

The first chart shows where Boger's crew has ranked in number of penalties called over the past three seasons. The NFL has maintained 17 crews. I've singled out a few choice penalties for display in the chart. The row showing personal fouls reflects calls labeled as unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness and general personal fouls. Other 15-yard penalties are not included.

Boger's crew members called many of the penalties listed in the chart, of course. Referees are primarily responsible for roughing-the-passer and some holding calls. The NFL spells out each official's responsibilities on its website.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jerome Boger is the referee assigned to the San Francisco 49ers' divisional-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.

Boger is working with an all-star crew, customary for the playoffs. Regular-season crew tendencies might not apply as much.

With an assist from ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing 49ers games Boger has worked over the years.

Boger worked the 49ers' memorable 27-24 defeat at Minnesota in 2009. Brett Favre's late touchdown pass, not the officiating, made that one memorable.

Last season, Boger's crew negated a Michael Crabtree touchdown at Cincinnati, ruling that the receiver had stepped out of bounds. The call was questionable, in my view, and former officiating director Mike Pereira agreed. Also in that game, Boger called a false-start penalty against "the entire offensive line" of the 49ers.

More recently, Boger was the ref for the 49ers' 45-3 victory against Buffalo.

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts from the FedEx Field press box as the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins warm up on the field about 30 yards away:
  • Peter Morelli is the referee. The Redskins have to hope officials watch closely for the aggressive tactics Seattle's cornerbacks use in coverage. Morelli's crew called only two of 62 penalties for illegal contact in the NFL this season. His crew was right at the NFL average with 17 calls for defensive pass interference. His crew was ranked tied for second with 12 penalties for defensive holding. Here's the deal, though: Morelli's crew is not working this game. It's an all-star crew. Referees are directly responsible for calling roughing the passer. Morelli called four such penalties this season, right at the NFL average.
  • The word on Morelli. Football Zebras is increasingly becoming a resource for officiating analysis. Its thoughts on Morelli: "Pete Morelli always gives a yeoman-like performance; he’s not going to win you over with style points, but he runs a tight ship." Note that the NFL removed head linesman Dana McKenzie from this game to avoid potential conflict with Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall stemming from a previous incident.
  • White on white. The Seahawks are wearing their white pants and white jerseys for this game.
  • Watch for tight ends. The Redskins have allowed 10 touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season. Only Houston (11) and Denver (11) have allowed more. The Seahawks' Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy could be players to watch. Each had three touchdown receptions during the regular season. Seattle's tight ends had zero touchdowns during the 2011 season.
  • Putting on the clamps. Seattle has allowed 10 touchdown passes to opposing wide receivers. That ranks fifth in the league and is in line with some of the Seahawks' division rivals. The top five in fewest scoring passes allowed to wideouts: Atlanta Falcons 7, San Francisco 49ers 9, Cincinnati Bengals 10, Seahawks 10, St. Louis Rams 10. Arizona ranked 15th with 14 allowed.
  • Guard in cross hairs.. The Seahawks think rookie right guard J.R. Sweezy has Pro Bowl potential. They're also taking a risk playing such an inexperienced player against a team known for unleashing confusing blitzes. Sweezy struggled against Arizona in the opener and again, at times, against St. Louis in Week 17. He did not play much in between. I'll be watching to see how well he handles protections.

The teams will be announcing inactive players soon. I'm not expecting big surprises. Of course, If I were expecting big surprises, they wouldn't be surprises.

Quick look at rule cited on 49ers-Pats punt

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
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Referee Ed Hochuli and crew needed an extended period to sort out what happened when the San Francisco 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. risked muffing a punt against the New England Patriots on Sunday night.

It was tough to see whether the ball struck Ginn before New England recovered. Hochuli awarded possession to the 49ers based on Rule 9, Section 2, Article 2 from the 2012 rulebook. That rule states:
" 'First touching' is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick that is beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a player of the receiving team beyond the line. If the ball is first touched by a player of the kicking team, it remains in play.

"First touching is a violation, and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead. First touching does not offset a foul by the receivers. There may be multiple 'first touch' spots, if more than one player of the kicking team touches the ball before it is touched by a player of the receiving team."

That was a confusing sequence. Thanks to K.C. Joyner for pointing the the specific part of the rulebook covering that play. The 49ers hold a 14-3 lead and are driving deep in Patriots territory.
These are fun times in the NFC West now that all four teams are competitive and all four have higher-profile head coaches.

One complaint: The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will not play again until Week 14.

A few days after 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh questioned Seattle's Week 7 coverage tactics in the secondary, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll returned fire during a conversation with 710ESPN Seattle on Monday. First, Carroll's comments:
"Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago when they were talking about not doing things like that? The Giants or Kevin Gilbride or something like that? I thought there was something about that where we don't go out and express our concerns like that.

"Anyway, I think this was a very normal game for us in terms of how we played. I'm surprised he felt like their receivers were so overwhelmed. I thought our guys did a good job. There are always going to be some calls you can look at, but our guys played good, solid, hard football and Vernon Davis didn't get the ball and the receivers didn't do much. Randy [Moss] got one, so I'm sure there's a little frustration there on their part.

"If the officials look at it, they won't have anything to even look at and I don't think they even need to. It's a regular game. Our penalties have really been going in the right direction. ... I don't think a guy should be able to speak out and they can go ahead and cause an investigation. It's too easy. I don't think that is going to happen."

Carroll worked in a couple digs there when he referred to the 49ers' receivers being "overwhelmed" and when he mentioned Davis getting shut out. His history with Harbaugh from their days in the old Pac-10 provide some context even though both coaches have downplayed any tensions.

Carroll suggests the 49ers are being hypocritical by complaining publicly about officiating only a couple weeks after Harbaugh called out Gilbride, the Giants' defensive coordinator, for suggesting 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding opponents.

The comments Gilbride made about Smith's alleged holding were unsolicited. The comments Harbaugh made were in response to questions specifically about the Seahawks' coverage tactics in the secondary. Also, Harbaugh did not use a phrase such as "gets away with murder" when questioning Seattle's tactics.

However, when a coach calls out a peer such as Gilbride for trying to influence officials through public comments, he makes himself vulnerable when he voices his own complaints in a public forum. That happened here and Carroll did not pass up the opportunity to call Harbaugh on it.

I'm most interested in seeing whether officials pay closer attention to the Seahawks' cornerbacks from this point forward, and specifically when the 49ers visit Seattle later in the season. I'm sure that's what the coaches care most about, too.

Corners getting away with you know what?

October, 20, 2012
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Penalties against Seattle Seahawks defensive backs are down significantly this season.

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh hopes that changes.

Harbaugh, displeased with the Seahawks' rough tactics against 49ers wide receivers, told reporters Friday he plans to ask the NFL office for clarification on rules governing illegal contact.

"Yeah, I think that’s just an important thing to address," Harbaugh said. "I mean, what is this all being defined as? Is it physical play? Is it within the rules? I think that’s the biggest question, 'Is it within the rules what’s happening?' We have to ask that question. We have to know what the interpretation is."

NFL teams regularly complain about officiating issues to the NFL office. They put together video clips showing plays in question.

The New York Giants presumably followed that protocol before their offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, publicly accused 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith of holding.

Harbaugh took offense to Gilbride's comments. He criticized Gilbride for using the term "gets away with murder" in association with officials allegedly failing to call holding against Smith.

"It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff’s sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating," Harbaugh said in a statement released one week ago.

Harbaugh did not accuse the Seahawks' defensive backs of "mugging" anyone. It is notable, however, that he is publicly complaining about officiating one week after criticizing an opponent for complaining about officiating.

The complaints against Seattle's defensive backs are nothing new.

Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith and Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings became visibly frustrated during their matchups with cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.

Officials have called six penalties against Seattle defensive backs this season for defensive holding, defensive pass interference, illegal contact and illegal use of the hands. Officials called 24 such penalties against Seattle DBs last season. The figure was six for all of 2010, the Seahawks' first season under coach Pete Carroll.

Everything changed when the 6-foot-3 Sherman and 6-4 Browner became starters last season. Browner became the most penalized player in the NFL with 19 accepted and declined penalties for infractions ranging from defensive pass interference (six times) and defensive holding (four) to unnecessary roughness (two) and even roughing the kicker (one).

Harbaugh's complaints should add fuel to the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry.

Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, who played under Harbaugh at Stanford, tweeted the following: "Jim said Sherm and BB were playing too rough. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaaahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha."

Sherman also played under Harbaugh at Stanford.

Harbaugh vs. Gilbride: NFC West addendum

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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A few more thoughts on San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh going nuclear on New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for suggesting Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding opposing offensive linemen:
  • Smith's responses to the uproar are entertaining on their own. They're funnier if you're familiar with his aw-shucks demeanor. He says offensive linemen hold because "they're born that way" and jokes that getting away with murder beats "getting caught with it." He calls them a colorful name, too.
  • Dan Graziano of our NFC East blog points to a Football Outsiders piece from before the season. That piece claims Smith not only gets away with holding, but that the 49ers' coaches instruct their defensive linemen to play that way. Players work to get every edge they can get. Offensive linemen hold regularly and get away with it. Defensive backs try to shove around receivers. No one calls them cheaters for it. Smith is a dominant player, period. Gilbride's comments should not diminish that.
  • Graziano also suggests Harbaugh's response -- describing Gilbride's remarks with a list of colorful adjectives -- might attune officials to calls they might not otherwise have on their radar. It might put public pressure on them to watch for Smith, but coaches routinely ask officials in private to watch certain players for certain infractions. You can bet the Giants have complained about Smith directly to officials.
  • Officials rarely call holding against defensive linemen. Since 2009, they've made 58 holding calls on first, second and third downs against players listed as defensive linemen (my way of excluding most special-teams plays). That includes two against Smith. Players sometimes change between defensive end and outside linebacker depending on scheme, so the numbers could change based on that factor. But it's still a call officials rarely make. As the Football Outsiders piece notes, it's a tough one for officials to see.

That's it for now. I'm heading out for a Friday-night dinner while wondering how many times per game offensive linemen get away with holding Smith. It's a lot more times than his defensive coordinator has complained about publicly, for sure.

Whew, simultaneous catches no sweat now

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
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With the NFL's regular officials set to return, I wanted to assure everyone that simultaneous-catch rulings will be handled in a manner agreeable to all parties.

The shoddy manner in which replacement officials handled the Seattle-Green Bay play Monday night could never happen with the professional game officials on duty.

Let history be our guide.

A 1998 ruling from a game between the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers comes to mind. Seattle's Joey Galloway and San Diego's Terrance Shaw went after a deep pass at the Chargers' 2-yard line. Officials awarded the ball to the Seahawks, who scored a touchdown two plays later, breaking open a close game.

And, as you might expect, the regular officials handled the situation with aplomb.

"Back judge Bobby Skelton tripped and rolled into the end zone," the Associated Press reported at the time, "but [he] saw the simultaneous catch prior to falling down, referee Larry Nemmers said afterward."

Even though the call went against San Diego, the Chargers appreciated the professional administration of the rules.

Consider postgame comments from June Jones, the Chargers' interim coach at the time.

"But you know, that's the way the NFL is," Jones said in the AP report. "The official who made the call was on his back in the end zone. That's all I have to say about that."

Galloway conceded that Shaw had a better grip on the ball. He was, of course, gracious afterward.

"I don't care if we stole it or they gave it to us, we won," Galloway said.

While rules governing simultaneous catches can be tricky to the uninitiated, veteran officials know all the nuances. In this case, it appears officials communicated information to players accurately and in a manner consistent with the rulebook.

"The official said when two guys get it at the same time, 'I give it to the guy who had it last,' " Chargers safety Rodney Harrison said, according to a Seattle Times report. "Terrance had it last, so I don't understand it."

Shaw skipped postgame interviews that day. He had been ejected from the game for arguing the call with umpire Jeff Rice.

Carry on.
Count Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald among the many NFL players hoping regular officials return for games in Week 4.

Fitzgerald, speaking on ESPN in the video above, said replacement officials have applied inconsistent standards for penalty enforcement.

With that in mind, I've put together a chart comparing penalty counts for defensive backs through Week 3 against three-week averages for the previous four seasons. Eight calls for illegal contact in Week 3 brought season-to-date averages closer in line with recent norms. Replacement officials have called far more penalties for defensive pass interference and defensive holding. Penalty info comes from Hank Garguilo of ESPN Stats & Information. It includes declined penalties.

Receivers have been called for nine offensive pass-interference penalties. That is the same number as there were through three weeks last season. WR penalties for false starts are up, but those for illegal shifts are down to zero from four last season and six the year before.

Regular officials are reportedly close to reaching new contracts. It's unclear how quickly they would resume working once a new deal is struck.

Thoughts, interpretations on NFL statement

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
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What matters most about the NFL's statement on Golden Tate's controversial winning touchdown catch against Green Bay on Monday night:

Pass interference missed

NFL: "While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. 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."

Sando: This was obvious. The NFL seemingly could not see this any other way. Once officials missed the call on the field, nothing could be done. Tough break, especially in a game featuring multiple questionable calls for interference. Earlier in the game, this crew thought Shields interfered with Sidney Rice when Rice wrapped one arm around Shields' helmet while using his free hand to grab Shields by the face mask. But when Tate shoved Shields in the back in plain sight, there's no call?

What was reviewable

NFL: "Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review."

Sando: This one wasn't so clear. I do think the M.D. Jennings intercepted the pass, but once the officials ruled otherwise, the standard for reversal rose to the highest level (indisputable). I'd say it was 90 percent indisputable, which is not indisputable. Update: The league had a clear disincentive to contradict its replacement officials, even if strong evidence did exist. Contradicting the replacements would have provided a boost to the locked out regular ones.

Simultaneous or not

NFL: "Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown."

Sando: OK, but was this the right call? The statement does not say whether the NFL Officiating Department thought what happened actually qualified as a simultaneous catch. That is a critical detail. I followed up with a league spokesman, who said the NFL "could not determine whether it was correct."

Seahawks' victory stands

NFL: "The result of the game is final."

Sando: Green Bay fans might be disappointed, but I think this was an easy decision. The commissioner does have authority to reverse outcomes in the case of unfair acts. Bad calls happen every week. They're not unfair acts in the most serious sense. A remote-controlled plane flying on the field to block an extra point would be more in line with an unfair act, in my view. Perhaps that will happen next week.

NFL statement on MNF controversy

September, 25, 2012
9/25/12
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The NFL has issued the following statement regarding Golden Tate's winning touchdown reception for Seattle against Green Bay on Monday night:
In Monday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Seattle faced a 4th-and-10 from the Green Bay 24 with eight seconds remaining in the game.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball.

While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. 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.

When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown.

Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.

Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.

The result of the game is final.

Applicable rules to the play are as follows:

A player (or players) jumping in the air has not legally gained possession of the ball until he satisfies the elements of a catch listed here.

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 of the NFL Rule Book defines a catch:

A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:
(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
(c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him 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.).

When a player (or players) is going to the ground in the attempt to catch a pass, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 states:

Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 states:

Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.
More on this in a bit. Just wanted to get this posted.

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