Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sleepless About the Seattle Game

Broadcast Screen Capture by Scott Crevier, Frame 3 © Scott Crevier
Hmmm - what to discuss today about the Packers @ Seahawks game?  Here's an idea, how about the officiating on the final play of this week's game?  The Packers lost to the Seahawks, 14-12, on a disputed touchdown pass on the final play of the game.

Scott Crevier, proprietor of the South End Zone web site, and the guy who encouraged me to start the predecessor to this blog, put up some screen captures showing the final play.   Not to go all Zapruder film on this, but to me, the most conclusive frame is the third one (shown above and at the link to Flickr).  The first frame shows that Packer defensive back M.D. Jennings had possession of the ball prior to Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, so under the plain reading of the rule (see below), this is not simultaneous possession.  The second frame arguably shows both players with hands on the ball, but the third frame shows Tate's hand come off the ball before sticking his hand back in there in the 4th frame.  So if there is any doubt about the simultaneity of the possession, I think the third frame shows that this is Jennings' ball, because he had it throughout, while Tate's possession was (a) later; and (b) (at best for Tate) lost before being re-established.

The rule (Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5) says:

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.
It is hard to see the status of Tate's left hand throughout the play, but let's assume for the sake of argument that he had his left hand on the ball throughout.  It is possible to catch a ball with one hand, obviously, as some recent high profile plays have shown - none more prominent than David Tyree's catch in the closing minutes of Super Bowl XLII.  But in the context of the play last night, I think Golden Tate still loses out because part of possession is control.  Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 requires control of the ball as a part of the concept of catching the ball.  Sure, if both players had both hands on the ball throughout the play, the fact that Jennings is holding the ball against his chest might not negate the simultaneous possession of the ball.  But where Jennings (in my view, clearly) appears to gain possession first, followed by Tate getting his right hand on the ball, then taking it off, then putting his right hand back on the ball while Jennings cradles the ball with both hands against his chest, you simply cannot say that Jennings did not have control of the ball first.

You know the call must be bad when a player for a divisional rival speaks up to say that the Packers were robbed.  I don't think I have ever heard a case where the commentators are as unanimous as they are on this one being wrong.  Take the "Instant Replay" game from 1989, for example.  The Majkowski to Sharpe touchdown pass was either the game winner, or Majkowski was over the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball, so that it was an illegal forward pass.  It was a very close call, dependent in part on exactly how you determine whether a player is over the line of scrimmage.  The Bears, I am told, put an asterisk on this game in their media guide to this very day.  A call had to be made, it was called an illegal forward pass, and then the call on the field was reversed, making it the game-winning touchdown.  There is general consensus that it was the right call (indeed, even the Bears fan in the stands with us admitted, on seeing the replay, that it was a TD).  But people still argue about the call 23 years later.

But in this week's game, the commentary is, so far as I can tell, unanimous that the call was wrong.  There were lots of other questionable calls in the game (including the phantom pass interference call on Shields, and the roughing the passer call on Erik Walden, negating an interception, both in the closing minutes), and not all of them were in favor of the home team.  But everyone seems to agree that this call was wrong.  So the call was blown.  So what?  I generally take the view that you can't complain about bad calls - it is poor form, nobody is perfect, and what is the point?

But this is different because the replacement referees brought about this travesty.  I am not close to the details of the labor dispute, but my instinct is to support the League over the referees.  But what is happening now is just not acceptable.  The referees are not up to the task, and the League needs to solve this problem.  There were problems in other games in the first three weeks, and there was a certain sense that we were heading to a disaster if this did not get resolved.  Now the disaster has happened, and a bad call by refs directly changed the outcome of the game.

As a fan, as a season ticket holder, and as an owner of the team, I am outraged by what happened last night.  There are only 16 games in the regular season.  A game like this can cost the Packers the playoffs, or at a minimum can affect playoff seeding.  Nobody else seems primed to run away with the NFC North, so I remain hopeful that this will not screw up the entire season for the Packers.  But it certainly could.

I will be contacting the league office this morning (if I can ever get anything other than a busy signal) to complain about what is happening, and to urge the league to get this thing resolved before another disaster happens.  There are more than 350,000 owners of the Green Bay Packers.  It would be great if we could all get involved in protesting this.

The League has just released a statement on the play, in which the League acknowledges that Tate should have been flagged for offensive pass interference (which is not reviewable), but otherwise supports the decision not to overturn the call on the field.  Who has possession of the ball is reviewable on a play in the end zone (but not outside of the end zone), but the League's position is that there was no indisputable evidence to overturn the call on who had possession.  So the matter is final, as far as the League is concerned.  But it need not be final with the fans, season ticket holders, and owners of the Packers and other teams.  Please contact the League and let them know (politely) how you feel about the situation.

Here is the contact information for the League, as best I can determine it since I can't get through to the League on the phone, and since they don't list their contact information on their website.  The contact info I am most confident about is the League's main phone number, but as mentioned it is consistently busy this morning.
National Football League
345 Park Ave.
New York, NY 10017
(212) 450-2000 (phone)
(212) 681-7599 (FAX)
(212) 450-2027 (Roger Goodell, supposedly)
roger.goodell@nfl.com (supposedly)

A couple of final thoughts.  As Aaron Rodgers put it, they shouldn't have let it come down to the final play.  There is a book about elections titled "If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat."  But it should apply to football, too.  The Packers needed to get their act together in this game, and they didn't until the second half.  McCarthy and the coaching staff made some great adjustments on offense at halftime.  Why not do it earlier?  And as for M.D. Jennings, whatever happened to the idea that you just knock down a Hail Mary pass, not try to intercept it?  Plus, if he had rolled more aggressively away from Tate on the ground, he would have had sole possession by the time the late-arriving refs got there.

We fans may not readily be able to put this game behind us.  But the team must do so.  The talented but desperate 0-3 New Orleans Saints are coming to town on Sunday.

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