The consensus seems to be that just because Packers safety M.D. Jennings caught the ball in mid-air and clutched it against his chest, that means it's a catch. Unfortunately, it's not until Jennings touches both feet against the ground, which by that time, Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate also had both hands wrapped around the ball. Jennings could not be credited with a catch, or possession until both feet had touched the ground.
A popular picture is circulating around the internet that shows Jennings lying on Tate with Tate's arm wrapped around Jennings' shoulder, not the ball. That appears to be conclusive evidence that the call was blown. What's not mentioned every time that picture is posted is that it was taken four seconds after Jennings had touched both feet to the turf and after Jennings had wrestled the ball away from Tate's grasp. The mere idea that Jennings had to wrestle the ball away from Tate shows that this wasn't an "easy" play to determine.
One picture shows Jennings and Tate right as Jennings second foot landed on the ground, which is far more conclusive of the actual play. That picture shows that Tate's arms were wrapped around the football, not Jennings' arm. It also looks like both players were in complete control of the ball as they landed.
The rules for Simultaneous Catch are as follows according to the NFL rule book:
"If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligble 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."
As we all know by now in the NFL, a "catch" is determined once both feet, or a body part other than the hand, touch the ground. M.D. Jennings had not "caught" the ball in mid-air, he had "caught" the ball once he landed. Whether you can "gain control" of a ball without "catching" it is unknown, but the NFL rule book does include the word "caught." Did Jennings have more control over the ball? Probably, and therefore the consensus that the Packers should have won is true. But it was a very close play.
The automatic reaction for most defenders is to try to intercept a pass on a hail mary, when it should be to punch the ball to the ground, ending any chance of a controversy like this. Had Jennings knocked the ball away, the game would have been over and there would be no chance for the replacement refs to place the call in their control.
There was an action on that final play that was actually far more blatant than the simultaneous possession call, and that was Tate's push-off. Right before the ball got to Tate and Jennings, Tate shoved off against Packers cornerback Sam Shields, which caused him to fall to the ground. Shields may have been in better position than Jennings or Tate to catch the Russell Wilson throw had he not been interfered with.
The play was bang-bang and extremely difficult to determine in real time. It would have been tough for the NFL's regular officials to determine and far too advanced for the limited experience of the replacement refs. While the play wasn't as clear cut as most people think, the uproar over it is appreciated. The NFL needed a costly, close call to force their hand in the referee lockout. The regular refs have made their own mistakes, and could have made the exact same call as the replacements, but as least we know we're in good, experienced hands.
One thing the regular refs absolutely would not have done was put up contradictory signals — one calling a touchdown and one calling the play clock dead. Lets also not forget the play was ultimately decided by a regular official, so this easily could have happened with or without the replacements.
The uproar over this call had been building up for almost two months now, ever since the first preseason game with the replacement officials. We had been waiting for this play, one that decided a game and could have playoff implications for either the Packers or Seahawks. A play that under a normal circumstance would have been viewed as close to call, suddenly becomes the most obvious referee mishap of all time.
If this is what we needed to get the regular refs back, lets view it as a good thing and hope that it doesn't affect the NFC playoff race. The Seahawks and their fans have been taking potshots all day, and they're largely undeserved. The Seahawks played a great game, and had one of the most dominant first half performances against a quality offense of all time with eight sacks. Blame the NFL, don't blame the unsuited replacement officials or the team that benefitted from them.
Photo via Twitter/mattlock3