Why the Seahawks-Packers finish was not an interception, and why it would have been called the same by any referee crew.
You probably have seen the play numerous times by now. Monday Night Football. Seattle Seahawks vs Green Bay Packers. After a game full of dubious calls by the much-maligned replacement officials, fans of both teams are heated at perceived injustices. With the score 12-7 and needing a touchdown to win, the Seahawks face a 4th down, do or die play from the 24 yard line:
The game ends with Seattle winning 14-12. The announcers, initially stunned at the play, decide upon replay that the touchdown call is incorrect. With each passing viewing of it in slow motion, they declare it a “tragedy” and spend the rest of the broadcast bemoaning the “jobbing” Green Bay has been handed. Controversy erupts across the nation at the Touchdown call that brings an epic end to the game. But instead of Golden Tate and Russell Wilson being praised for their unlikely last-second epic win, the Seahawks are branded as “cheaters”. The internet explodes as 70,000+ voicemails are left for the league complaining about what many dub “the worst call in NFL history”. The verdict is clear to most: Green Bay was robbed and Seattle didn’t deserve to win. The two complaints are that offensive pass interference should have been called on Golden Tate for pushing a Green Bay DB out of the way, and that Jennings should have been awarded an interception on the actual catch.
Before we dive too much more into the controversy on this, I will cover one thing. Golden Tate definitely, definitively pushed off and committed what should have been offensive Pass Interference. The NFL agreed after the fact that it should have been called. The only problem is, this was on a hail mary pass where you would be hard pressed to find even one example of that being called in a past NFL game, even though pushing off routinely happens. Much like in NBA games where officials basically never call a foul with under 5 seconds left, NFL referees are not going to call a subjective penalty on the last play of the game if they can help it. So while Offensive PI would be the correct call, according to the rules it is unreviewable by instant replay, and once it was missed it is out of the conversation. You would be unlikely to convince this NFL fan that any other referee crew would have flagged Tate for the push, either. There’s plenty of evidence going around to show just how rare a Pass Interference call on the defense OR the offense is in these situations.
For the purposes of this article we are going to focus on the claim that it should have been called an interception. Let’s read over and keep in mind the exact NFL rule for this situation:
“Item 5: 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.”
In real-time, it looks like it this rule would apply. Both players jump into the air, come down with the ball and wrestle with it on the ground before the official makes the touchdown signal. The national announcer even says “Tate..with Jennings…simultaneous…who’s got it?!” when it happens live, implying it is not clear at all who has caught the ball. Did anyone who watched the game live feel differently? If I’m that ref, I know what I saw: A bunch of players jump into the air, the ball comes down and then Tate and Jennings are wrestling over it. The ref sees they both have a hold of it and clearly decides “simultaneous possession goes to the offense. Touchdown.”
The point of contention for most people is that when the replays came up, Jennings of the Packers seems to grab control of the ball first, pull it in and maintain control the entire time, whereas Tate seems to not have nearly as much control of the ball, only trying desperately to get some of it. To the vast majority of fans, Jennings should be credited with an interception, because they don’t feel Tate had mutual possession of the ball. Some people are saying that Tate has “fingers” or “an arm” on the ball, but conclude that he doesn’t have enough of it to warrant getting credit for the catch.
Here’s where the rule and careful analysis comes into play.
It becomes clear from the above angle that Tate actually gets his left hand on the ball first, right before Jennings grabs it. A lot of people will then point out that Tate removes his right hand briefly to get a better grip, and thus supposedly Jennings keeps possession and Tate loses it. One important thing to note is that Tate’s left hand never releases the ball, so saying he loses all control at the point he readjusts his right hand is very dubious. There’s no evidence Tate has lost control with the left hand when this happens. The other important part is that when Tate’s right hand readjusts, he does so before Jennings feet touch the ground. By NFL rules Jennings has not established possession yet as both feet are still in the air, so not interception has taken place anyway. When they both hit the ground and both have two hands on it, they both are awarded possession, which would go to the offensive player. Tate’s left hand has partial control over the ball at all times, and Tate also gets a nice grip on it with the right hand before Jennings touches down. Either way, Tate has some of the ball the entire time, lands and completes the requirements for a catch.
In fact, Tate actually touches ground first:
According to the rules, this is why the call was correct. 2 Feet down, mutual possession of the ball, while Jennings is still in the air which by rule means he can’t have possession yet. Touchdown.
People have been posting a picture a lot that shows them on the ground 5 seconds later, after the players roll over and BOTH officials are on the field. At this point Jennings has way more of the ball due to torquing his body and Tate is holding on for dear life. That has nothing to do with the actual catch, just shows how Jennings had better positioning. There is no questioning Jennings had more control of the ball and better positioning, but the play was over when both hit the ground. If this was a game of flyer’s up, where both players are equal, Jennings gets credit for the catch. In this case, though, all the offensive player needs is share some of the possession as well, which Tate did. Once Tate has possession in the end zone, it’s a touchdown and the play is over even if the defender had managed to wrestle it away after they roll over.
Still not convinced? More evidence can be found in this video. The video is zoomed in on Tate’s left hand, where it becomes clear he immediately has a grip on the ball and maintains it throughout the entire catch. Keep an eye on the left hand!
A back angle also shows how Tate has his hands on the ball at the same time as Jennings, right at the beginning of the catch! It just isn’t as clear on other replays due to their positioning.
Possession for Jennings would begin as soon as he touches the ground, which begins here in the play:
You can see that by that time, Tate has both hands on the ball. Jennings still has better positioning, of course, but as we’ve covered that doesn’t matter. And interception could not have occured until this moment, and Tate has had partial control the entire time. As long as Tate doesn’t lose the ball upon completing the catch, it stays a touchdown.
Moving on, Tate hits the ground on his butt:
The play is officially dead when both men are on the ground, which again looks like both still have a handle on the ball:
At this point we can safely say that Tate had one firm hand on the ball throughout the play, and two hands gripping the ball from before the point where he OR Jennings hit the ground, starting actual possession.
When both players hit the ground, it sure looks like equal possession of the ball, so how can anyone say Tate only gets “a finger” on it, like has been repeated?
Here we can see a clear view of the ball, and Tate obviously has a claim to it:
(Thanks to Mike Sando for providing this image in his MNF Last Play album)
A back angle (and longer take) of the video provided by Q13 Seattle is helpful to pose this question: If Jennings has sole control, and Tate doesn’t, why can’t Jennings get the ball away from Tate at all? Throughout the catch Jennings never pulls the ball away from Tate. Even after they land and Jennings has rolled over, using all his strength to try to pull the ball away, he can’t, because Tate’s left hand is around the ball tight the entire time. Again, Tate does move his right arm during the catch, but this happens before he or Jennings touches the ground anyway, and more importantly he never loses that other hand on the ball. If Tate does not have possession or control over the ball, the way Jennings reacts and struggles makes no sense. He should be able to rip it away easily. Check out the video in the link below:
(This means you, skeptics that think Tate has no control over the ball)
Analyst Steve Gallo provides us this great image taken from the video, clearly marking out Golden Tate’s left hand securely around the ball, stopping Jennings from pulling it into his chest. You can check out the original image along with his informative take on the play over at Full Impact Football:
The back angle video and image shows clearly that while Jennings initially appears to be holding the ball to his chest, he’s actually holding it against Tate’s left hand. Tate has his left hand firmly around the ball from the top of the jump all the way to the ground. Coupled with the fact that he got his right hand on it before Jennings was out of the air, it’s clear that Tate had at least partial control of the ball from the beginning of the catch until he landed. That’s all he needs. It doesn’t matter if Jennings has most of the control. It’s still a touchdown.
So to recap, we’ve established:
-Tate touched the ball first, and had it with his left hand all the way from the beginning of the play until the end.
-Tate adjusting his right hand had no effect on his left hand/arm being around the ball at all times.
-Jennings could not pull the ball away from Tate at any point during the play, implying Tate has some control over the ball as well.
-Tate completes the requirements of a completed catch before Jennings has even touched down, and therefore before an interception could ever take place.
To me, this is more than enough to call this play a touchdown, and at the very least enough to get rid of this opinion of an “obvious interception” or “terrible call”.
Finally, to hammer home the point. Here’s an example of the SAME THING happening with no controversy in an NFL game. Two players go up, the defender appears to have the interception but the offensive player grabs on too. Touchdown. Notice the similarities, and how the result is the same. Touchdown:
In my opinion, the ESPN and the national media coverage of this game has been atrocious. In addition to not covering the actual specific rule properly when judging the play, they also have not bothered to be reasonable considering what the play looked like in real-time to the officials and judge them fairly. In my opinion, this is such a big deal nationally for three reasons:
1.. A less popular team from the northwest won in controversial fashion over a very popular team from the east. Does anyone doubt this would not be as big of a controversy had it been reversed, with the Seahawks losing?
2. To create controversy and draw ratings. The Sportscenter following MNF was the highest rated since 1995.
and most importantly,
3. To finish the storyline of the replacement referees ruining the game. People want the real refs back and this pushes the argument over the edge by running with the storyling that the replacements cost a team a game unfairly.
No one is arguing that the replacement refs have done a good job. This game alone was filled with at least 8 dubious calls going against both teams. That is not the argument though. People seem to be letting their perception of the ineffective referees decide that the play must have been ruled incorrectly without considering the details.
I believe that you are not being reasonable if you can’t admit, at the very least, that it was a close play. I don’t expect to change everyone’s mind. But even if you think it was an interception, calling this the “worst call ever”, as many videos of the play have been named, is ridiculous.
Is this call worse than the infamous Vinny Testeverde touchdown against the Seahawks that led to instant replay being implemented to begin with? (On the play in question, the ball never came close to the endzone, but officials mistook Vinny’s helmet for the football, which barely crossed the goal. They awarded him a touchdown).
After all, if you saw this in real time:
Would you be 100% sure you could make the correct call, all while interpreting the rules to the letter? Not even a regular official would have called it differently. Watching it live like the officials did, it’s completely understandable why they called it a touchdown for the Seahawks. Admit that it could have gone either way, and you will have my respect. And consider that maybe, just maybe, they got it right (at least, as right as the NFL ever gets it). Thank you.
EDIT: Please make sure to check out this other excellent article on the play, which uses many of the same points I did, and also does a great job referencing other plays to form precedent: