The most controversial play of the 2012 season.
After a controversial ruling on a catch that decided a 14-12 Seattle Seahawks victory against the Green Bay Packers in a prime-time Monday Night Football matchup, it's the NFL's replacement officials that are catching hell.
The Seattle Seahawks' prayers were answered after a Hail Mary pass from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was ruled a touchdown catch by Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate despite Green Bay Packers strong safety M.D. Jennings clearly making the catch in mid-air before jostling with Tate once he landed.
Still, the Packers had plenty of opportunities to win the game, and the Seahawks seized the win more than the Packers had it taken away by the replacement officials.
The replacement officials are an obvious No. 1 choice, but there are other reasons Seattle came out on top.
The NFL’s replacement officials’ controversial calls keep pouring in as fans continue to rain expletive-filled reprimands against the fill-ins who many believe are literally “out of their league.”
Most egregious to Green Bay Packers fans—and many other NFL fans—was the fact that Packers safety M.D. Jennings jumped high in the air and caught a Hail Mary pass from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, but the catch was awarded to Seattle’s Golden Tate after he managed to squeeze through Jennings’ arms and was able to get a hand on the ball at the end of the play.
From the time Jennings grabbed the apparent game-saving interception in the air, Tate was on a mission to claim possession and he had enough of the ball to warrant one official to signal touchdown.
Even the full-time, veteran NFL game officials may have struggled with such a complicated decision.
NFL rules stipulate that in when opponents simultaneously catch a pass, possession of the football goes to the passers, this time the Seahawks. Simultaneous possession is not reviewable.
Even the two officials closest to the play couldn’t agree, with one official signaling touchdown and the other waving that it was not a touchdown.
Both players were touching the ball at the end of the play and while the Packers have the replay, the Seahawks had the replay and the NFL rulebook as well.
A closer look illustrates how a "Golden" moment was made possible for the Seahawks.
As Green Bay strong safety M.D. Jennings made the seemingly game-saving interception, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate found himself in a very unfavorable position.
But Jennings, a would-be hero, was eclipsed by Tate’s super ability to not give in and never quit on a play.
Tate, a 5’10” wide receiver, was outnumbered by Packers defenders, including Jennings, who rose high in the air to catch Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s Hail Mary pass at the end of the game.
Some might credit Wilson for throwing the pass, but the rookie quarterback was 9-for-20 (45 percent) as he took the snap with eight seconds left, and his throw found Green Bay’s Jennings in a great spot to be the clutch performer of the night.
While many receivers give up on a ball when the defender is in a better position to catch the ball, Tate didn’t stop trying to win and fought until the end.
First, he shoved Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields out of the way. Then, Tate used a strategy often utilized by defenders: Let the opponent catch the ball then knock it down, strip the ball or simultaneously grab the ball and get possession.
Tate refused to quit on the play and forced the officials to make a tough choice.
Tate, the 60th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft despite hauling in 93 passes for 1,496 and 15 TDs as a junior at Notre Dame in 2009, had his best game as a pro on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers.
His 68 receiving yards was the most of his career and he also had his first multi-touchdown game. Tate had two TDs in the game—he had three touchdowns in 29 previous NFL games (including playoffs).
Although he played with the Fighting Irish, there was nothing lucky about Tate’s effort on the final play.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and his assistants had a great game plan.
Seattle’s coaches prepared an excellent game plan and their players executed it perfectly, limiting the reigning NFL MVP and fantasy football king to zero touchdowns.
The Seahawks harassed the Packers quarterback throughout the game, totaling eight sacks and making crucial plays at key moments while holding the usually high-scoring Packers to 12 points.
The Packers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 8:44 remaining in the game to take a 12-7 lead, but the Seahawks were able to stop Green Bay’s two-point conversion attempt and give themselves an opportunity to win the game.
Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers had the ball and the lead with less than two minutes left in the game after the Packers defense made a valiant stand at their the Green Bay seven-yard line to give their offense a chance to run out the clock.
But the Packers couldn’t earn the decisive first down with time running out in the fourth quarter as Seattle stuffed Green Bay on three consecutive plays to force a punt.
The Seahawks’ defense was simply dominant as rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin validated his first-round status with two sacks, fellow defensive end Chris Clemons added a career-high four sacks and with two sacks, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane had the first multi-sack game of his career.
Don’t forget the offensive coaches, either.
Seattle sent three receivers to the end zone against eight defenders in the secondary for Green Bay on the final play.
By keeping extra blockers in the pocket, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had more time, and the 5’11” quarterback had plenty of space to get a good view of his receivers to know where to throw the ball.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't throw a touchdown for the first time in 20 games.
The Packers offense is struggling mightily—a huge concern for a team that relies on its offense to win games.
Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdowns in 2011. With three touchdowns in three games this season, Rodgers is on pace to throw 16 TDs in this season.
Rodgers averaged 309 passing yards as the Packers went 15-1 in 2011, but he’s averaging 248 yards/game this season as the Packers fell to 1-2 on the season.
Surprisingly, the Packers' major players from last season—especially in the passing game—all returned.
Wide receiver Donald Driver, a backup this season, was open but couldn’t grab a third-down pass in the end zone, and the Packers had to settle for a field goal.
The Packers offensive line gave up eight sacks, but a few may have been coverage sacks as Rodgers usually gets rid of the ball quickly.
Last season, Rodgers was only sacked 36 times, 2.25/game and the Packers didn't surrender more than four sacks in any game —only giving up four in one game.
This season, chemistry in the passing game is much different as the O-line has increasingly suffered more sacks. The Packers allowed three sacks in a 30-22 Week 1 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and five sacks in a 23-20 Week 2 win against the Chicago Bears before surrendering eight sacks on Monday night.
The Packers running game also felt the wrath of the Seahawks defense, as Green Bay running Cedric Benson finished with 17 carries for 45 yards.
Green Bay played it safe—too safe?—with less than two minutes left in the game. Holding a 12-7 lead and pinned deep in their own territory, Green Bay ran three consecutive running plays before punting the ball to Seattle.
Green Bay’s defense had been strong all game and had just made a goal-line stand, and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy decided to put the game in the hands of his defense and not his All-Pro quarterback.
The replacements officials couldn't tell who had the ball, either.
This slide is the toughest because one could easily make the argument that Green Bay's defense did everything—including making the game-saving interception—to win the game.
However, despite all of the team's offensive struggles in the game, the Green Bay Packers defense was nursing a five-point lead with only eight seconds on the clock, with the Seahawks relying on a rookie quarterback to win the game.
But the Packers made several questionable decisions at the end of the game.
Green Bay only sent three pass-rushers against Wilson on the final play and Seattle’s seven players in pass protection were more than enough to give Wilson time and space to make a good pass.
Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings made a great, athletic catch but he put the ball in position for Tate make a claim to it.
The ball could have been knocked down. The ball may have sailed through the end zone if it was unimpeded.
Yet to Jennings’ credit, everyone saw what happened to the Houston Texans in 2010 and to the Detroit Lions on Sunday: Defenders attempted to bat the ball down only to end up guiding the ball directly into the hands of the opponents.
Wilson made a good pass and Tate made a great play, but all the Packer defenders in the area seemed to play the ball, even though there were enough defenders to use some to play the ball and others to guard the opponent.
A pass-interference penalty may have been a better option as an inexperienced Wilson had already failed to score a touchdown inside the 10 earlier in the fourth quarter.