Since this preseason, the NFL replacement refs have been scrutinized to an extreme degree. Although they have made plenty of mistakes, I believe their decision making has been overly criticized. This has never been more true than on the final play of last night's Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.
I feel as though the general public outcry as the result of Golden Tate's 24-yard touchdown is more because of a game full of questionable calls by the refs rather than the play itself.
NFL players, former players, and analysts have all weighed in-- dismissing the call, but does that make them right? Let's look at the two elements of the play: the alleged pass interference on Tate and the question of who had possession of the ball.
Of the two elements, I think offensive pass interference was more likely to be called, but I can understand why it wasn't. While on the super slowed down replay you can clearly see that Tate pushed Sam Shields, refs do not watch the game in super slow motion.
If it was just Tate and Shields in the end zone, I think offensive pass interference would've been seen and called by the replacement refs, but on a Hail Mary play it is different. To me it is similar to a hold call on offensive lineman. On pretty much every play, at least one offensive lineman is holding, but it is only called when the lineman is separated from the rest of the line and the hold is extremely blatant. In this case the players were bunched together and the refs simply saw a bunch of players go up for the ball and one player fall away (Shields). Looking at it another way, if the refs had seen the push and called offensive pass interference on the catch, what then? Would the call be totally accepted by the players and media? I would argue calling a pass interference on the receiver who caught a game winning Hail Mary would lead to even more public outcry than what we are hearing now.
But overall, I can understand the problems with the offensive pass interference. On the other hand, anyone who truly knows and understands the NFL rules should have a problem with the refs ruling a catch to Golden Tate. It flummoxes me how so many people can so strongly protest a play that they don't really understand.
Yes, it is clear that Jennings caught the ball first, and that Tate had only one hand on the ball on the way down, but that doesn't mean it is a completed interception. If a receiver catches the ball, has control of it going down but drops it on impact, that is an incomplete pass.
So, Jennings did not have the interception until he hit the ground and by this time Tate had both hands on the ball. This makes it a "simultaneous catch", which by rule goes to the receiver (for an example of this rule in action skip to 3:24 of the video).
It doesn't matter than Jennings had more control than Tate; all that matters is that Tate had both hands on the ball. Rule 8 Section 1 Article 3 Item 5 states that, "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."
Now, if Jennings had caught the pass and come to the gorund with the ball and THEN Tate had grabbed joint control, by rule Jennings would have had the interception. But because Jennings didn't have total control when he landed, Tate deserved the catch. Now arguing the rules should be changed based on this play to state that the player who catches the ball first gets possession in the event of joint control is one thing, but arguing that the rule was violated is another, and is unfair. The replacement refs deserve some of the criticism they have received, but not for this play.