Hey you. Yeah, you people marching outside of an empty Lambeau Field with your signs of protest. Go home now, for Roger Goodell has spoken, and he’s cured all of your angst and ills. You should calm down too, guy who contributed to the $150 million lost in Vegas due to a comically botched call on a play that wasn’t even the play Russell Wilson was supposed to call.

Yep, quiet down everyone, because there’s a totally logical reason for the worst call in recent memory that should strip the NFL of every ounce of remaining leverage it has (or thinks it has) over the locked out regular officials. There should have been an offensive pass interference call, and there wasn’t. That’s all.

Whoa boy. Here’s the league’s statement in its entirety, and before reading please ensure that one of those handy airline vomit bags is nearby.

In Monday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Seattle faced a 4th-and-10 from the Green Bay 24 with eight seconds remaining in the game.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The result of the game is final.

The most glaring admission is that offensive pass interference should have been called on Tate. We all know that, but I also think we were all willing to accept the omission of that call, because regardless of which officials are working a game — whether they’re high school geography teachers or the regular zebras — it’s a generally accepted practice to allow chaos to reign supreme in the end zone during a Hail Mary play. That’s because with so many bodies fighting for position and the same few yards of end zone real estate, the average Hail Mary could probably lead to at least six pass interference calls that go both ways.

So while there was a clear shove by Tate that gave him the space to even make an attempt on the ball, it was mostly greeted with a shoulder shrug, or at least it should have been. The problem is still the interpretation of the simultaneous catch rule, and the widespread public reading of the rule versus the NFL’s reading of its own rule.

Goodell sides with possession as a sort of finality to the rule, and possession can’t be fully demonstrated until a player — either offensive or defensive — hits the ground and demonstrates complete control. Remember the Calvin Johnson play a few years back when a game-winning touchdown was nullified because he left the ball on the ground? Yeah, there’s no grey area when we’re discussing possession, and it was determined that when the two players in question hit the ground and the play concluded, they possessed the ball equally.

But here’s the major flaw in the language of the simultaneous catch rule, and subsequently the league’s interpretation: it doesn’t mention possession. Anywhere.

Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 states:

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.

They key word is “control,” and unlike possession — a word for which, again, a grey area doesn’t exist in the NFL — the definition of control in this specific and very unique situation is vague. What exactly constitutes control during a simultaneous catch situation? And how can it be determined who does or doesn’t have control during those few split seconds?

Although the language of the rule may not spell it out as it should, we can make a logical conclusion and assume that the control advantage in this situation should go to the player who has more hands on the ball. It seems so simple, because it is. If one player has two hands on the ball first and then the second player has one hand and has to fight to work in his second hand, then simultaneous catching didn’t occur.

That’s what happened on this play when you watch Tate’s right arm closely. Here’s the GIF again:

Not good enough? Alright, let’s zoom in closer, and stop the image from moving repeatedly.

Jennings definitely has more control of the ball, and then as the two players fall Tate has to fight for his control, and his share of possession. The rule — the one written by the league — quite clearly states that a fight for possession can’t happen by either player.

I’ll concede that maybe I’m interpreting it wrong, and in fact, I hope I am, because the league should know the intricacies of its own rules. But that leads to an even larger problem: during a ruling that decides the winner of a game and could easily impact the final standings and therefore the playoffs, there shouldn’t be any room for confusion. Yet here we all are, angry and confused.

Given the uniqueness and sheer absurdity of this play, we’ve strayed a bit from our usual fantasy musings around these parts as my fascination with a play we may never see again and a historically botched call has grown. But I’ll close our final word  (maybe, and probably not) on Tate’s non-catch catch with a terrifying thought.

Tate’s ownership throughout fantasyland is minimal, as he’s owned in only 1.3 percent of ESPN leagues, and four percent of Yahoo leagues. However, it’s not exactly insane for those in really deep leagues with 14 teams or more to use Tate as a flex play at the very least. Sidney Rice seems like he’s Seattle’s No. 1 receiver in name only, and Tate has the home run speed to break away for a long touchdown. He did just that earlier in the game on a 41-yard score in the second quarter.

But even in leagues with more normal depth, Tate was still a conceivable play last night. What if you’re a Greg Jennings owner, and you’re not the risk-taking type? You might even live a more normal existence which doesn’t allow access to a computer every waking hour, and therefore no fantasy-team hovering. This person could have pulled Jennings when they were unsure of his playing status, and then plugged in Tate because they were beaten to James Jones and Randall Cobb, and hell, some production is better than zero production, amirite?

This person whom I’m convinced exists somewhere out there could have won their matchup last night on a phantom catch that wasn’t a catch at all. Or worse (much, much worse), there’s this…

Comments (1)

  1. You are absolutely right that “control” is not defined. However, there are countless precedents of establishing control with one hand. Frame by frame analysis shows beyond any serious doubt that Tate touched the ball first. The ball landed in Tate’s open left hand a fraction of a second before Jennings touched the ball.

    Now, the most plausible way of assessing whether a player has control is determining whether he has the capacity to manipulate the ball. And we can determine with absolute certainty that Tate did have that ability since he was able to keep firm hold of it until he impacted the ground and established possession, making it a catch. That is. We can determine reasonably that he established control when the he caught the ball in his left hand by assessing the available empirical evidence of what he was able to do with the ball after that point in a single unbroken action.

    The simultaneous possession rule provides for no assessment of who has MORE control. There is no such concept. That Jennings had two hands on the ball before Tate is not relevant. Control, while not strictly defined, is clearly a binary concept. And further the whole point of the rule is to break a deadlock in favour of the offense without requiring calls on who had more control.

    In my view, not only was this not the disaster claimed by the media and many fans it was not even a blown call. Whether by luck or by judgement the officials made a great call.

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