Locked-out NFL referees received a massive boost in their bargaining battle with the league on Monday when stand-in officials bungled the final play of the night’s nationally televised game, affecting the result.
The Seattle Seahawks were trailing 12-7 in their home game against the Green Bay Packers when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson hoisted a Hail Mary pass into the end zone as the seconds ticked away.
The ball appeared to be intercepted by the Packers’ M.D. Jennings but Seahawks’ receiver Golden Tate — who also appeared to push a defender during the play — got a hand to it too and wrestled it away.
One official ruled a touchdown while a second called it an interception. After video review the stand-in officials gave the score to the Seahawks.
"Don't ask me a question about the officials," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. "I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football."
McCarthy’s star quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, "It was awful. Just look at the replay, and then the fact that it was reviewed. It was awful. That's all I'm going to say about it."
Players from both teams left the field after the play, only to be called back for the mandatory point-after kick 10 minutes after the disputed score. The ESPN telecast showed dejected Packers frantically looking for their discarded helmets so they could join the play. The kick was successful giving the Seahawks a 14-12 victory.
Respected ESPN analyst John Clayton said the fiasco at the end of the game could be a game-changer for the locked out refs. “The only thing I'm certain of is this game should end the replacement officials experiment. The NFL shield has become cracked, tarnished and ruined during the start of this season,” he wrote.
His colleague, Kevin Seiffert was more direct. “Can we now, in unison and without debate, agree that the NFL's plan to replace its locked-out officials has failed spectacularly and embarrassingly, undermining the credibility of the league?” he wrote.
The play was the latest questionable decision made by the replacement referees this season and will fuel the debate over what has been perceived by many as a litany of sub-standard performances.
The stand-in referees, drawn from the ranks of college and semi-professional football, are filling in for regular officials, who have been locked out this season due to a dispute with the League over a new collective bargaining deal.
The off-field dispute is now a major on-field issue with coaches, players and fans becoming increasingly vocal about the botched officiating.
New England coach Bill Belichick and Baltimore's John Harbaugh both showed visible frustration during a penalty-ridden game on Sunday, while Denver coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were fined for publicly criticizing officials following a loss last week.
Even mild-mannered New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees condemned the use of replacement referees on Monday.
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