|The New York Post portrays its opinion|
From newspaper headlines to ESPN and FOX Sports talk shows, Twitter, Facebook and even MLB.com's new 140 Club, the replacement officials making the call(s) in the end zone found themselves as football culture's newest poster children for settling the NFLRA's labor dispute with the League.
The Play: As time expired, Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw a deep 24-yard pass to WR Golden Tate, who jockeyed with Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings for position in the air. As the two players fell to the ground, side judge Lance Easley signaled a touchdown as back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn siglaned to stop the clock. After a brief discussion, referee Wayne Elliott ruled "touchdown," while the replay official Howard Slavin affirmed the call on the field.
The Rule: Rule 8-1-3 of the NFL Rule Book is the relevant citation:
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.Mechanics Analysis: Non-withstanding the play itself, the first component of analysis regarding this play pertains to the mechanics employed by Easley and Rhone-Dunn. As explained by former NFL referee Jim Tunney, both officials were further away from the play, initially, than is generally preached.
Second, of course, is the perception that two different calls were made by the officials. Technically, this is correct. Easley called "touchdown," while Rhone-Dunn called "timeout." Contrary to popular fan belief, an interception in the end zone is not signaled by simply stopping the clock. Because this interception would have resulted in a touchback, the proper mechanic would have been that of a touchback, wherein one arm is waved above the head, or "half" of the timeout signal). Because Rhone-Dunn signaled "timeout" so as to stop the game clock (apparently unaware that time had already expired, effectively making this mechanic unecessary), it is apparent Rhone-Dunn desired further investigation of the play before rendering a verdict whereas Easley, from his angle, found sufficient evidence of a simultaneous catch with which to call a Rule 8-1-3 touchdown. At no point, however, did either official signal an interception.
The Call: Because the officials were further away from the play than is prescribed, one may conclude that their angle with which to see this play was wider, so that the officials may have seen more action surrounding the final scrum. Unfortunately, in real time, neither official saw the offensive pass interference that preceded the final jump (Tate shoving Packers CB Sam Shields), a common uncalled penalty—even amongst "regular" officials—during Hail Mary plays. This penalty, had it been called, would have ended the game.
Nonetheless, video evidence suggests Jennings (Packers) attempted to catch the ball first while still in the air; however, he was airborne as he attempted to gain possession and as he fell to the ground, video evidence is ultimately inconclusive as to whether Tate (Seattle) gained simultaneous possession prior to Jennings gaining sole control of the football; upon instant replay review, the call on the filed was upheld, not confirmed.
Three elements are required of a catch (8-1-3): (1) The player must secure control of the ball before the ball touches the ground; (2) The player must touch the ground inbounds (with both feet or non-hand parts of the body); (3) The player must maintain control of the ball long enough to complete a game-action, such as a pitch, pass, advancement, juke, etc.
When a player goes to the ground with a football, he furthermore must maintain control throughout the process of contacting the ground (e.g., until his momentum-inspired movement has ceased) (8-1-3-1).