SEATTLE — Eleven seconds.
That’s how long the Seahawks’ final play from scrimmage took Monday night. Yet more than 24 hours later, the country was still trying to extricate the truth out of a knot that formed when Golden Tate latched onto a ball already held by the Packers’ M.D. Jennings.
There were no apologies Tuesday. Not from the NFL, which made a statement regarding the replacement officials who made the critical call. Certainly not from Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who was asked in his weekly radio appearance how he felt about the characterization that his Seahawks stole one.
“I don’t care,” Carroll said during his coach’s show on 710 ESPN Seattle. “I could care less about all that stuff. The game’s played, they called it. We played with the officials they sent out there, we played with the team that they put out there, and at the end of it, we throw the ball up and Golden makes an extraordinary effort.”
It was more than just that, though. It was the pass, the protection and everything from the league’s replay protocol to its lockout of the regular on-field officials that was called into question Monday night. And while the league admitted Tuesday that a mistake was made, it stopped well short of condemning the final decision, and certainly not reversing the result.
Those 11 seconds from Monday night are going to reverberate around the league all season and beyond, and only by putting that play under a microscope is it possible to understand just what happened.
1 Wrong-way Russell
Seattle had the ball at the Green Bay 24 facing fourth-and-10 with eight seconds left. The Seahawks sent three receivers into the pattern, leaving tight end Evan Moore and running back Marshawn Lynch in for protection.
Quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back, then spun and ran to his left in what is called a waggle. The problem? He called the play to roll to his right, which is why left guard Paul McQuistan pulled to the other side of the field.
Carroll on 710 ESPN Seattle: “He said right, and we needed left called in the huddle. He got out clean anyway.”
What Carroll meant: Yep, that was a mistake, but it didn’t end up costing us.
2 Tick, tick, tick
The Packers had 11 sacks in the first two games of the season. They had one against Seattle. Some of that was the result of a Seahawks game plan that was more conservative than a red state, but some is a compliment to the protection. On the game’s final play, Wilson started with Tate as his primary target and had time to look across the field to Sidney Rice and come back to Tate, throwing the ball just before he was hit by a Packers pass-rusher.
What Wilson said: “He was my first read, and then I scanned across, and nobody was open at first, and I scanned right, came back to my left, just because I knew the defense was going to flow with me a little bit, and I found Golden there.”
What Wilson meant: He had time to look at all three receivers the Seahawks sent into the pattern and threw it downfield to Tate, who was both the first and last man he looked at.
3 Push comes to shove
Before Tate leapt for the pass, he pushed Packers cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This cleared his way for takeoff and eliminated a defender going airborne. Instead of having four defensive backs competing with two Seattle receivers for the ball, the Packers had three defenders.
“You see that?” Shields said of the shove after the game. “I felt it.”
NFL statement said: “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.”
What NFL statement meant: OK, you need to hear there was a clear mistake made on the play? This was it. He pushed off. That’s clear. It’s also a judgment call that must be made on the field and is not subject to a review.
The Packers’ Jennings jumped higher than Tate, and was first to have both of his hands on the ball. Replays made that clear. Tate had his left hand in there, though, and one of the most important arm-wrestling matches began.
Did Jennings have it first?
Jennings: “Yeah, most definitely.”
Tate: “Maybe he did, but I took it from him.”
Here is the question: Did Jennings establish possession of the ball before Tate? If so, simultaneous possession does not apply. But establishing possession requires more than catching the ball with both hands. It requires the player to catch it, establish position inbounds and maintain control of the ball throughout contact with the ground.
Carroll: “It was simultaneous when they got to the ground. There was a little bit of an edge for the (defensive back) up in the air, but it’s not over there. You’ve got to get to the ground and finish the catch, and when we finished the catch, we had the ball and they had the ball, too. So it’s simultaneous.”
5 The moment of truth
Tate and Jennings are both on the ground, each with two hands on the ball, though Tate is reaching around Jennings, whose right shoulder is against Tate’s chest.
The back judge, Derrick Rhone-Dunn, and side judge Lance Easley are right there, within a few feet of what was at that moment just a two-man scrum. Rhone-Dunn waved his hands above his head, which is the signal for a timeout, at the same time Easley signaled touchdown. There was no conference, no discussion, just one official making a definitive touchdown call while the other made a motion that did not apply given there was no time remaining.
What the NFL’s statement said: “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.”
What the NFL statement meant: Notice what the league did not say. It did not say the call was correct, it stated what the call was. The ruling on the field was that two players possessed the ball simultaneously, and in that case, the passing team is awarded possession.
6 Upon further review
It was a scoring play, and therefore subject to an automatic replay review, which referee Wayne Elliott called for just as the pile of players was untangled.
What the NFL statement said: “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.”
What the league meant: The assertion on ESPN after the game that the issue of possession could not be reviewed was erroneous. Not only could it have been reviewed, it was reviewed, because this play happened in the end zone and not the field of play.
7 The play stands
What the league said: “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.”
What the league meant: The wording of this is important. The statement does not say the call on the field was correct, it states that there was not sufficient evidence to overturn the call that was made on the field. The difference is significant, and it relates to the procedure. The league requires indisputable evidence to overturn a call, a standard higher than beyond a reasonable doubt.
As the debate continues to swirl around a play that engulfs the NFL, the final sentence of the league’s statement was the most important — and least open to interpretation.
What the league said — and meant: “The result of the game is final.”