SEATTLE — One play. One throw. One simultaneous catch. One replay. One finish that will be remembered as long as the National Football League exists.
With eight seconds remaining, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson tossed up a jump ball into a crowd of players in the far left corner of the end zone. Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay strong safety M.D. Jennings came down with the football in traffic.
After the officials looked into the pile of players — and looked at the play again on replay — Tate was ruled to be the recipient of a simultaneous catch that propelled the Seahawks to a 14-12 victory over the Packers on Monday Night Football at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
“Yes,” Tate said when asked if he caught the 24-yard touchdown pass. “We both had possession of the ball. I guess, if it is a tie, the ball goes to the offense. I ran my route on the back side. Wilson wanted to give me one last chance after I dropped the first one and I just competed. Thankfully, I came down with the ball.
“I was just trying to keep possession,” Tate added. “The guy I was fighting for the ball, he was strong. I don’t know if it was a touchdown or an interception or an incomplete pass. I didn’t know what was going on. I kept trying to keep ahold of the ball.”
Jennings, obviously, has a different point of view on the final play.
“I felt like I had control of the ball,” Jennings said. “I was very shocked. But, the refs got the last say, so it is what it is. It was pinned to my chest the whole time.”
“It was awful and that’s all I’m going to say about that,” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sacked eight times in the first half, said. “Just look at the replay and then the fact that it was reviewed … We shouldn’t have been in that position.”
On television review, Jennings appeared to have full control of the ball, with Tate getting a hand onto it as they hit the ground. Both players wrestled as several others piled onto them, causing confusion and mayhem for everyone involved, including the replacement game officials tasked to managing the contest while the pro football referees and their union are locked out by the NFL.
The play stood. NFL rules state that in the case of simultaneous possession of the ball by two players, the offensive player is awarded the ball. This was the call on the field, even with one official signaling a touchdown and another waving his arms to stop the clock in a prelude to signaling an interception and a touchback.
“The ruling on the final play was a simultaneous catch,” head referee Wayne Elliott said. “(It was) reviewed by replay. Play stands. They both possessed it.”
Initially, the extra-point kick was called for, but then waved off. Players, coaches, support staff and others were already on the field, celebrating, yelling, congratulating each other.
After 10 minutes of further review amid the confusion, the extra-point kick was taken when the Seahawks (2-1) and the Packers (1-2) were brought back from the locker room. It was a chaotic end to a wild contest.
“They said simultaneous catch, which goes to the offense,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “That was the phrase. … It’s time for it to be over. My hat’s off to these officials, they’re doing everything they can do as well as they can. There’s nothing easy about it, and it takes years and years of experience to pull it off properly; and, in a timely fashion keep the flow of the game alive and all that. It’s time for it to be over. The league deserves it, everybody deserves it.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that in all of my years of football,” Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said of the last play and the return of the teams 10 minutes later for the extra-point kick.
The finish overshadowed, almost negated, 59 4/5 minutes of a prime-time televised game that saw history made on defense.
A first-half destruction of Green Bay’s offense, in particular Rodgers, dominated the game. Defensive end Chris Clemons registered four sacks in the second quarter alone, tying an NFL record with Kansas City legend Derrick Thomas (1992) for most first-half sacks in a game. Clemons also tied the franchise record for most sacks in one game (held by four players, last done in 2007 by Darryl Tapp against St. Louis).
Rookie first-round draft pick defensive end Bruce Irvin got his first two sacks of his career in the first quarter, setting the defensive tone. The Seahawks finished with eight sacks on Rodgers, the second-highest sack total in the first half in NFL history (nine is the most by New York Giants vs. Chicago Bears, 2010) and tying a franchise record overall.
Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP, walked off the field at halftime like he had been in an auto accident. Wilson didn’t fare much better against the Packer defense, but he struck the first scoring play of the game with Tate.
Boosted by his two scramble runs for first downs, Wilson kept a seven-play, 73-yard second-quarter drive alive until he play-faked the Packers out of their shoes.
Everyone in yellow and white looked for the run, including two secondary players who allowed Tate to run by them, as Wilson fired the 41-yard touchdown pass for the game-opening score. Marshawn Lynch’s running, which had been effective against the Packers in the first half, set up the play-action fake.
Wilson, who ran for his life throughout the contest, enjoyed perfect pass protection on the play and he delivered a tear-drop accurate pass to a wide-open Tate.
But just as effective and dominant as Seattle was in the first half, leading 7-0 at halftime, it was equally ineffective and timid in the second half. Not included in the assessment were the 14 penalties for 118 yards compiled during the game by Seattle. Green Bay had 10 penalties for 127 yards as well.
Green Bay’s offense, behind running back Cedric Benson, came up with three consecutive, time-eating scoring drives — two third-quarter field goals from Mason Crosby from 29 and 40 yards out and a Benson 1-yard touchdown run — for a 12-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
On the 2-point conversion that could have given Green Bay a 14-7 lead, Rodgers’ pass to James Jones went into the turf. As noted by Rodgers after the game, the game officials gave him the kicking ball — known as a K-ball specifically used by kickers for field goals, kickoffs, punts and extra-point kicks — for the extra-point kick that never came.
Seattle got one chance to take back the lead after Benson’s scoring run. However, at the Green Bay 7-yard line, a fourth-down throw by Wilson was deflected by Tate that appeared to be intended for teammate Sidney Rice with 1:54 remaining.
The Packers couldn’t run out the clock and punted back to the Seahawks, who had 45 yards to navigate in 46 seconds.
You know the finish.
“I knew it was possible for us to get down there and score,” Wilson said. “On that last play, the offensive line did a great job of protecting me, allowing me to run around and make the throw. I went to the right, then back to the left before I found Golden Tate. Tie goes to the runner, right? Obviously, it was a tough call …
“Now we won and we’re 2-1; we’ll do whatever it takes to win.”