Thursday, September 27, 2012

Response to Claim that the Final Play of the Seahawks-Packers Monday Night Game was Officiated Correctly

A friend showed me this link:

As a bored Cheesehead with no homework, I felt compelled to respond. Enjoy.

"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." - Yes, but that was not a "subjective" penalty. It was a blatant penalty that definitively changed the outcome of the play. I agree players get more leeway in the closing seconds, but that doesn't mean anything goes. It means minor, ticky-tack things like boxing out, jostling for position, in-air contact, hand grabbing on the way up, etc should be allowed. For instance, the big mass of bodies that went up for the ball were all bumping one another and impeding one another's track to the ball, but that's within the "last play" boundaries. Shoving somebody in the back with two hands so had that they fall three yards forward, directly in front of the referee, is beyond that line. Shields had the best position on the ball of anyone; had Tate not illegally removed him from the vicinity, he would have made the play. That means Tate cheated. Using the basketball analogy, the refs will allow more contact on a drive to the lane on the last play, but they won't allow the defense to shove the ballcarrier to the ground. That's a fair equivalent to the blatantness of that foul.

"You would be unlikely to convince this NFL fan that any other referee crew would have flagged Tate for the push, either." - There's no way to know this for sure, but let's just say I've never seen a more blatant penalty that more clearly impacted the outcome of the play let go right in front of a referee before. The side-ref had a perfect view, and in my opinion the only reason he didn't call it was a lack of confidence. The reason referees in all sports are more hesitant to call fouls in the closing seconds is because it's extra pressure on them: most people notice a penalty on the last play much more than they notice a non-call, so calling one draws attention to the ref. With the weekend and game going the way they had, the last thing the replacement refs wanted was more attention on them! It was clear from the hesitation and nervous glances at one another that neither of those referees wanted to make that last call. As it was in the air, I guarantee you they were thinking to themselves "please, please just drop incomplete so we don't have to worry about a judgement call on the determining play of a Monday night game." The negative publicity that had already surrounded those refs hurt their confidence and made them too hesitant to make a bold but necessary call. Regular referees who are used to making those decisions and did not have the stigma of being "replacements" over their head would have been unhindered by those concerns.

"One important thing to note is that Tate’s left hand never releases the ball...Tate’s left hand has partial control over the ball at all times" - The author confuses "contact with the ball" as "control of the ball". Tate never had anything to release with his left hand, because his left hand was merely resting underneath the ball wedged between Jennings' forearm and torso. That is not control, and it is not possession. Tate's hand (but not arm) got stuck in between the ball and Jennings' chest, and he was able to use that leverage to pull Jennings towards his torso. But that's very different from having "partial control" of the ball. It's almost impossible for someone to have control of the ball with one hand on a reception. It's very difficult for most people to palm a football even when they're just picking it up off the ground; how much more difficult is it to palm the ball with one hand after a contested reception when it's wedged against an opposing players chest?

"saying he loses all control at the point he readjusts his right hand is very dubious." - Actually, Tate never "readjusted" his right hand: if you look at the video, tate's entire right hand never even comes in contact with the ball until after his feet are planted on the ground. In the initial jump, his right hand bounces against the outside of Jennings' right arm; only once he's almost in a seated position (and Jennings' feat are on the ground) does he ever reach the right had back in the fray. Jennings, meanwhile, had a full two hands on the ball from the beginning, and had it cradled against his chest in the ballcarrier position throughout the entire process. Tate never relinquished control, because at no point during the play did he have control to relinquish.

"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." - In addition to the above fallacy of saying Tate had any control at all, this is a misinterpretation of the rule. Contrary to what this author is saying, the catch is not made as soon as a receiver's feet hit the ground; rather, they must MAINTAIN possession all the way to the ground. Jennings does this and Tate does not. For proof of this rule, remember the Calvin Johnson play against the Bears a few years back?

Johnson caught the ball with two hands, landed both feet and a hip in bounds, and was trying to come back up again to celebrate when the ball came out, and was STILL not awarded possession or the touchdown. Watch: So suggesting that Tate is awarded a touchdown as soon as his feet touch the ground and he has a hand on the ball is preposterous. Even if you agree that Tate got his right hand onto the ball before Jennings' feet hit the ground (which is not conclusive from his pictures), that is irrelevent: the players must maintain an equal possession of the catch all the way through the process for the simultaneous catch rule to apply. By the author's confession, that does not happen.

"If Jennings has sole possession, and Tate doesn’t, why can’t Jennings get the ball away from Tate at all?...Tate’s left hand is around the ball tight the entire time." - No. Jennings can't get the ball away from Tate because Tate's arm is wedged between his. Tate's left hand is touching the ball, but it is the only part of his body in contact with it. However, since his hand is pinned, he's able to pull the airborne Jennings in tight against him - at least until Jennings hits the ground and pulls back. Once both butts are on the ground, Jennings wrestles his torso and takes the entire ball with him, exposing who clearly has control of the ball itself. The author says this is just because Jennings had "leverage", but that's not true because he was working against gravity. Tate was on the bottom, while Jennings was on the top; if they truly had equal possession of the ball, it would've been much easier for Tate to keep the ball down than for Jennings to pull it up. If they had an equal grip, then in order to wrench the ball upwards, Jennings would've had to have dragged Tate up with him. But he didn't have to do that, because they didn't have equal possession; Jennings only needed to swivel the weight of the ball itself, and the only resistance to that motion was Tate's left bicep, because Tate's forearm was never on the ball and he never had it against his chest like Jennings did. By the time the final picture in the article was taken, Jennings already has the ball "tucked" in the nook of his elbow, with the other arm which is what every coach in the world tells a ball carrier to do for maximum ball security.

"Does anyone doubt this would not be as big of a controversy had it been reversed, with the Seahawks losing?" - well of course it wouldn't have been, because the right call would have been made! People are angry over injustice, and that's why this call is such an outrage. Yes, it was tough to tell for sure in real time. Yes, I can understand the call being made the first time. No, I cannot understand why it wasn't overturned, and no, it most certainly was not the "correct" call. Nor was the pass interference non-call. Nor was the pass interference on Shields that got them into that position in the first place. Add in a questionable roughing the passer that took away a Packers interception and the fact that they gave Rodgers a sick, untreated kicking ball to throw for the 2 point conversion, and Packers fans have every right to bitch. So does the media. It is beyond question to any reasonable observer that had the final 7 minutes been properly officiated, the Pacers would have won the game. The league knows it too, and that's why they finally got the real refs back.


  1. Excellently said. But in the second to last line, you said the paCers won the game. Different sport, you might want to change that.

  2. Also, there's this: "Throughout the NFL rule book are examples that help flesh out the real-life implications of obtuse rules. One in particular appeared in the 2011 rule book, and has since moved to the 2012 casebook of supplemental explanations, and seems applicable in this case. Here is how A.R. 8.29, which is entitled "NOT A SIMULTANEOUS CATCH," reads:
    First-and-10 on A20. B3 controls a pass in the air at the A40 before A2, who then also controls the ball before they land. As they land, A2 and B3 fall down to the ground. Ruling: B's ball, first-and-10 on A40. Not a simultaneous catch as B3 gains control first and retains control.

    In this example, Jennings is "B3" and Tate is "A2." If you watch the replay, or view the photograph in this post, you see that Jennings was the first to get his hands on the ball. After that point, Tate secures his left hand on the ball as well and touches both feet on the ground before Jennings gets either foot down. He then wraps his right arm into the mix as well.

    The argument for Tate having simultaneous possession rests in part on the fact that Jennings couldn't have achieved legal possession until both of his feet hit the ground. By that time, Tate had at least his left hand firmly on the ball.

    We all associate possession with having two feet on the ground. But A.R. 8.29 seems to indicate that Jennings' ability to control the ball first, even if he was in the air, takes precedence. Eventually Tate lays claim as well, but as NFL rules state: "It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control." - Kevin Seifert, NFC North Blogger