2012 Packers–Seahawks officiating controversy

The 2012 Packers–Seahawks officiating controversy, sometimes referred to as the Fail Mary[2] or Inaccurate Reception,[3] arose during the final play of an American football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL) that occurred on September 24, 2012 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.[4] In a nationally televised game on ESPN's Monday Night Football, the Seahawks defeated the Packers, 14–12 in controversial fashion.

On the final play of the tightly-contested game, Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone intended for wide receiver Golden Tate.[5][6] Both Tate and Packers defender M. D. Jennings got their hands on the ball while both players were still in the air and attempting to gain possession. The two officials near the play initially gave separate signals of touchdown and touchback, before ruling the players had simultaneous possession, resulting in a Seahawks game-winning touchdown.[7] Prior to the catch, Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields with both hands, which the NFL later acknowledged should have drawn an offensive pass interference penalty that would have negated the touchdown and resulted in a Packers victory.[8] The lack of a pass interference penalty and the ruling of a touchdown via simultaneous catch were widely questioned in the aftermath of the game, drawing comments from the game's announcers, NFL players, and the media. The NFL subsequently released a statement defending the touchdown ruling.

The controversial ending followed weeks of criticism regarding the quality of officiating by replacement officials employed by the NFL during the 2012 NFL referee lockout.[9] Two days after the game, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association announced they had reached an agreement to end the lockout.[10][11] NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the negative attention the game drew to the referee situation was an impetus for ending the labor dispute.

Fail Mary
2012 Packers Seahawks Final Play
A screenshot of the ESPN broadcast taken during the play that resulted in the officiating controversy.
Green Bay Packers
Seattle Seahawks
12 14
Head coach:
Mike McCarthy
Head coach:
Pete Carroll
1234 Total
GB 0066 12
SEA 0707 14
DateSeptember 24, 2012
StadiumCenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
FavoritePackers by 3[1]
RefereeWayne Elliott
TV in the United States
AnnouncersMike Tirico and Jon Gruden with Lisa Salters

Events of the play

Prior to the play, the Packers were leading the Seahawks 12–7. With eight seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks had possession of the ball at the Packers' 24-yard line with a fourth down-and-10 situation.[12] On the final play of the game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson unleashed a Hail Mary pass into the Packers end zone. Several Packers and Seahawks leaped to catch the ball. As the players jumped, Packers safety M. D. Jennings and Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate both jumped up for the ball, and both maintained some amount of contact with the ball in the air and upon landing on the ground.

The two officials near the play conferred and then simultaneously made separate signals; side judge Lance Easley raised his arms to signal touchdown, while back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn waved his arms to signal stoppage of the clock. Because Rhone-Dunn signaled timeout so as to stop the already expired game clock, Rhone-Dunn indicated that he 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 touchdown. The ruling on the field was officially a touchdown, with Tate and Jennings maintaining simultaneous possession.

Replay official Howard Slavin initiated a video review, as is required of all scoring plays. According to an NFL press release after the game, "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." Referee Wayne Elliott determined that there was not adequate evidence to overturn the call, so the ruling stood as a touchdown.[12]

As the teams and sports media swarmed the field, the Packers left the field and reported to their locker room, but were required by officials to return to the field for a mandatory conversion attempt per the NFL rules.[13]

Broadcast call

Tirico and Gruden's call of the play and aftermath:

Tirico: "Rice is 6'4", Moore is 6'6", they're all to the right, Tate's the lone receiver to the left. The Packers play it at the goal line... as Wilson... scrambles to keep it alive. The game's final play... is a Wilson lob to the end zone...which is... FOUGHT FOR BY TATE! WITH JENNINGS! SIMULTANEOUS, who has it? Who'd they give it to?! TOUCHDOWN!!! ...One guy goes up touchdown, the other said no time... has to be looked at because it's a score, still have an official down there in the pile looking!"

Gruden: "This Russell Wilson...!"
Tirico: "[As the referee announces a replay review]You can't go to replay to determine who caught the ball, so that call has to be made on the field. You see the one guy go up, touchdown, and the other go timeout, like it's a pick."
Gruden: "How does M. D. Jennings not get credit for the interception, I have no idea."
Tirico: "So, here comes the referee now. He's looked at it under the hood. This is deciding who wins the game on this call."
Elliott: "After further review, the call on the field stands: Touchdown. The game is over."
Tirico: "S-Seahawks win, in the most bizarre finish you'll ever see!"[14]

Tirico and Gruden were back on the air immediately after Monday Night Football, during a special broadcast of SportsCenter, where they further analyzed the events of the play. Also joining them in the booth was their rules expert and former NFL referee Gerald Austin.


The lack of a pass interference penalty and the ruling of a touchdown via simultaneous possession became the source of immediate controversy. During the SportsCenter broadcast, Gruden expressed disbelief over the calls: "Golden Tate gets away with one of the most blatant offensive pass interference calls I've ever seen. M.D. Jennings intercepts the pass. And Tate's walking out of here as the player of the game. Unbelievable."[15] ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote, "In all, it was one of the most disorganized and embarrassing scenes you'll ever see on an NFL field. At least, so far."[16] The winning catch was subsequently referred to in the media by the nicknames such as Fail Mary[17][18], Inaccurate Reception,[19][20] and Intertouchdownception,[21][22] (referencing the Hail Mary pass, Immaculate Reception, and a portmanteau of the words "interception" and "touchdown") and Russell Wilson was referred to as having thrown a "game winning interception".[23]

Following the game, the NFL released an official statement that acknowledged that the pass interference should have been called on Tate, but supported the decision to uphold the play as simultaneous possession:

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 and the officials (who were the original officials in control of the instant replay) 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.[12]

In an interview with TMZ three days after the game, side judge Lance Easley defended his touchdown ruling, saying, "It was the correct call." When asked why it was not an interception, he said, "You have to not only have the ball but have either two feet or a body part on the ground, and that never happened." He later added, "Put any other official who knows the rules and they would make the same call."[24] However, the day before Easley made that comment, locked out referee Walt Anderson, who has worked numerous NFL postseason games including two Super Bowls, said he would have ruled interception either on the field or under the hood.[25] In addition, Bill Leavy, speaking on behalf of the locked out NFL officials including Ed Hochuli, said "they would have ruled Monday Night's would be an interception," and added "Like Ed, I've never seen one," referring to a simultaneous catch.[26]

Many NFL players commented on the ending, including several Packers players. Green Bay offensive lineman T. J. Lang tweeted after the game, "Got fucked by the refs.. Embarrassing. Thanks nfl." He later added, "Fuck it NFL.. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs." The second of the two was retweeted over 98,000 times, a record on the Twitter platform at that time.[27][28] Lang openly admitted that his team was considering going on strike if the lockout was not resolved.[29] Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers responded by saying, "First of all, I've got to do something that the NFL is not going to do: I have to apologize to the fans. Our sport is a multi-billion dollar machine, generated by people who pay good money to come watch us play. The product on the field is not being complemented by an appropriate set of officials. The games are getting out of control."[30] Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy later stated he had been informed that Jennings had intercepted the pass.[15]

The day after the game, New Jersey State Senator Stephen Sweeney, a Packers fan, announced plans to introduce legislation banning replacement officials from working professional sporting events in New Jersey.[31] Green Bay's mayor Jim Schmitt sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, stating, "As an elected official and public steward, I'm concerned about the impact on the integrity of the game and the significant financial effect that it may have upon our community."[32] U.S. President Barack Obama weighed in on the ending, calling it "terrible" and adding, "I've been saying for months, we've gotta get our refs back."[33]

Former quarterback Warren Moon speculated that the game—which had 24 called penalties for 245 yards (more than Seattle's 238 total yards)—could be an impetus to resolving the labor dispute, saying, "This could be the game that gets a deal done. Something like this, on the league's biggest stage, on Monday night, it's just not good for the game. You could argue the officials had a hand in the outcome, that they cost Green Bay the game or would have cost the Seahawks."[13]


On September 26, 2012, two days after the game, an agreement was reached between the NFL and NFL Referees Association to end the 2012 NFL referee lockout that began in June 2012. The contentious nature of the replacement officials' decision at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game is widely considered to have been the tipping point that finally led to the agreement.[9][10][34][35] Roger Goodell acknowledged that the game "may have pushed the parties further along" in negotiations.[36]

One blog writer speculated on how this game would affect the standings for the rest of the regular season. Kevin Seifert, NFC North blogger for ESPN, frequently posted the playoff standings if the Packers had defeated the Seahawks instead. Ultimately, the Packers went on to win the NFC North division title with an 11–5 win–loss record, but finished with the third playoff seed behind the second-seeded 11–4–1 NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers, and thus Green Bay's record had them play in the Wild Card round. The Seahawks ended up with an 11–5 record and the fifth seed, ahead of the sixth-seeded 10–6 Minnesota Vikings; even if Seattle had not beaten Green Bay, they would have still been the fifth seed at 10–6 because they held the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vikings. Had the call been made in Green Bay's favor, the Packers would have finished 12-4 on the regular season and they would hold a first-round bye, which would have resulted in the 49ers hosting the Vikings in the Wild Card round. As it was, both Green Bay and Seattle eventually were eliminated in the Divisional round.

Las Vegas oddsmakers estimated that over $300 million in bets changed hands due to the final play.[37] Offshore betting website SportsBook.ag announced that it would be refunding wagers for customers outside of the United States who bet on the Packers.[38] In the wake of the controversial ending, SportsCenter achieved its highest ratings ever, receiving a 5.0 overnight Nielsen rating.[39] Reportedly, 70,000 voicemail messages were left at NFL offices by disgruntled fans.[40] In 2014, ESPN's listing of the 45 most memorable moments in the history of Monday Night Football, as voted on by ESPN.com contributors, ranked the controversy as #1.[41]


The NFL rulebook states, "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."[12]

Regarding the NFL's position of a simultaneous catch with both players on the ground, Mike Florio wrote for Pro Football Talk, "In reality, the outcome was determined before the players hit the ground. That’s when Jennings first gained 'control' of the ball, regardless of whether Tate eventually secured simultaneous 'possession' of it...The relevant portion of the official 2012 rules comes from Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5: 'It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control.' (Emphasis added.) Thus, it doesn’t matter whether the officials determined that Tate and Jennings jointly had 'possession' when they landed; the question is whether Jennings 'gained control' first."[42] The New York Times columnist Greg Bishop disputed the touchdown, writing, "Another defender, M. D. Jennings, leapt from behind Tate. The ball appeared to land in Jennings’s hands. Tate’s hands were there, too, as Jennings fell to the ground and pulled the ball to his chest. Tate eventually wrestled the ball away."[13] Bishop further noted that, in waving his arms, back judge Rhone-Dunn appeared to be signaling a touchback for a change of possession via interception, which would have ended the game with a Packers victory.[13]

Contrary to Florio's analysis of the rules, Cold Hard Football Facts writer Scott Kacsmar supported the touchdown ruling, stating "Golden Tate had the first control of the ball, catching it with his left hand, which never loses control of the ball throughout the entire process of the play. His two feet hit the ground to establish possession before M.D. Jennings establishes possession. Tate’s butt hits the ground, and at this point, he still has control, possession and is in the end zone for a good touchdown. Tate pushed off for an uncalled offensive pass interference that would have ended the game, but this is irrelevant when history shows no referee in football will make such a call on a Hail Mary. Seattle’s win is legit."[43]

Most sources, however, agree with Florio that Jennings gained control before Tate, with some posting photo and video evidence to back up their claim.[44][45][46] Following the incident, Larry Brown of Larry Brown Sports summed it up: "Most fans, media members, commentators, and impartial viewers agreed that safety M.D. Jennings intercepted the pass. He possessed it and appeared to control the ball. It was only after Jennings had the ball that Tate seemed to wrestle it from him."[47]

Starting lineups

Green Bay Position Seattle
Greg Jennings WR Sidney Rice
Marshall Newhouse LT Russell Okung
T. J. Lang LG Paul McQuistan
Jeff Saturday C Max Unger
Josh Sitton RG John Moffitt
Bryan Bulaga RT Breno Giacomini
Jermichael Finley TE Zach Miller
Jordy Nelson WR Golden Tate
Aaron Rodgers QB Russell Wilson
James Jones WR FB Michael Robinson
Cedric Benson RB Marshawn Lynch
Ryan Pickett LDE Red Bryant
B. J. Raji NT LDT Alan Branch
C. J. Wilson RDE RDT Brandon Mebane
Nick Perry LOLB RDE Chris Clemons
A. J. Hawk BLB OLB Leroy Hill
D. J. Smith MLB OLB K. J. Wright
Clay Matthews ROLB CB Marcus Trufant
Tramon Williams LCB Richard Sherman
Charles Woodson SS Kam Chancellor
Morgan Burnett FS Earl Thomas
Sam Shields RCB Brandon Browner
Source: Gamebook


  • Referee: Wayne Eliott (#28)
  • Umpire: Mark Harrod (#46)
  • Head Linesman: Mike Peek (#77)
  • Line Judge: Tommy Keeling (#59)
  • Field Judge: Richard Simmons (#102)
  • Side Judge: Lance Easley (#26)
  • Back Judge: Derrick Rhone-Dunn (#84)


  1. ^ Borden, Sam (September 25, 2012). "Some Bettors Get Relief on Game Decided by Botched Call". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  2. ^ "'Fail Mary' official fighting depression". ESPN. January 13, 2015. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  3. ^ "The 'Inaccurate Reception' still haunts the Green Bay Packers". LombardiAve.com. December 13, 2012. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  4. ^ "Replacement refs decide game as Seahawks top Packers on Hail Mary". ESPN.com. ESPN Internet Ventures. Associated Press. September 25, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  5. ^ Wilson: 'I gave him a shot and he came down with it'. Seahawks.com. Seattle Seahawks. September 24, 2012. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  6. ^ Nevada Daily Mail. "Column: : NFL replacements: Train wreck or blessing in disguise?". Nevada Daily Mail. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  7. ^ "Oklahoman Derrick Rhone-Dunn plays key role in Monday Night Football debacle". The Oklahoman. September 25, 2012. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  8. ^ "NFL upholds Seahawks' disputed win over Packers". Sports Illustrated. Time Inc. Associated Press. September 25, 2012. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  9. ^ a b "NFL referees agree deal with league to end lockout". Reuters. 2012-09-27.
  10. ^ a b "NFL, referees reach agreement; refs back on field Thursday". National Football League. September 26, 2012. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  11. ^ "Refs due back Thursday night". ESPN.com. ESPN Internet Ventures. Associated Press. September 27, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d "NFL supports decision to not overturn Seahawks' touchdown" (Press release). National Football League. September 25, 2012. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d Bishop, Greg (September 25, 2012). "Absurd Ending Fuels Disgust With Replacement Refs". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved September 25, 2012.
  14. ^ Top 50 Sound FX – #40: Mike Tirico Calls the "Fail Mary" – NFL. October 23, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  15. ^ a b Greenberg, Chris (September 25, 2012). "Seahawks Defeat Packers, 14–12: Disputed Replacement Referees' Call Results In Golden Tate TD (VIDEO, PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 16, 2013.
  16. ^ Seifert, Kevin (2012-09-25). "Rapid Reaction: Seahawks 14, Packers 12". ESPN.com. ESPN Internet Ventures. Retrieved 2012-09-26.
  17. ^ Kryk, John (2012-09-25). "Against all logic, NFL defends epic Fail Mary | Football | Sports". Toronto Sun. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  18. ^ "Only In America: Personal Foul – Piers Morgan – CNN.com Blogs". Piers Morgan. September 27, 2012. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  19. ^ Schefter, Adam (1980-09-07). "Coaches under unprecedented pressure – Adam Schefter's 10 Spot – ESPN". Espn.go.com. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  20. ^ O'Neil, Danny (September 27, 2012). "Carroll says he's the reason for the Seahawks' low passing numbers". The Seattle Times. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  21. ^ Strouf, Alex (2013-08-06). "Fantasy football rankings 2013: Best wide receiver on all 32 NFL teams". Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  22. ^ Gerakis (September 4, 2014). "NFL - Packers vs Seahawks Predictions". sportige.com. Sportige. Retrieved 2016-07-03.
  23. ^ Bena, John (September 24, 2012). "Russell Wilson Throws Game Winning Interception, Beats Packers 14–12". Mile High Report. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  24. ^ "NFL Replacement Ref Lance Easley – I Made the Right Call". TMZ.com. TMZ. September 27, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  25. ^ McIntyre, Brian (September 26, 2012). "Locked out referee: Packers would have won if I was working Monday night's game". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  26. ^ Garafolo, Mike (September 26, 2012). "NFL's regular officials still convening to stay game-ready". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  27. ^ Tam, Donna (2012-09-27). "Record-breaking NFL tweeter celebrates end of ref lockout". CNET. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  28. ^ "That Vulgar Tweet From A Packers Player Has The Most Retweets Ever". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  29. ^ DETROIT (97.1 The Ticket) (2012-09-25). "Lang says players could take action if NFL refs' issue continues". CBS Detroit. CBS Local Media. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  30. ^ Michael Cherner; Michael Hiestand (September 25, 2012). "Saying NFL won't do it, angry Aaron Rodgers apologizes to fans". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved September 27, 2012.
  31. ^ Renshaw, Jarrett (2012-09-25). "Sen. Sweeney moves to block replacement refs from working in N.J. following blown call in Packers game". NJ.com. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
  32. ^ "Green Bay Mayor to Commish -- You're Crushing Packers' Shot at a Super Bowl". TMZ. September 25, 2012. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  33. ^ Kyung M. Song (September 25, 2012). "Obama calls Seahawks-Packers touchdown call "terrible"". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  34. ^ Garafolo, Mike (September 27, 2012). "NFL, referees end lockout after reaching new labor deal". USA Today. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  35. ^ Battista, Judy (September 27, 2012). "N.F.L. Reaches Labor Deal With Referees". The New York Times. Retrieved September 27, 2012.
  36. ^ "Officials get standing ovation". ESPN.com. Associated Press. September 28, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  37. ^ Ken Ritter; Oskar Garcia (September 25, 2012). "Seahawks-Packers Bets: Golden Tate Touchdown Swings $300 Million In Vegas, Oddsmakers Say". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
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  42. ^ Florio, Mike. "NFL's rulebook, casebook confirm call was incorrect". Pro Football Talk. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  43. ^ Shame on the Angry Mob: Golden Tate’s Touchdown Was Legit
  44. ^ Sports Science Packers vs Seahawks
  45. ^ What Is The NFL Rule About Simultaneous Catch?
  46. ^ Petchesky, Barry (September 27, 2012). "Seahawks Truthers Continue To Insist Golden Tate Caught That Touchdown". Deadspin.com. Gawker Media. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  47. ^ Brown, Larry (September 24, 2012). "Seahawks given win over Packers on controversial Hail Mary". Larry Brown Sports. Retrieved June 8, 2016.

External links

2001 Jaguars-Browns officiating controversy

The 2001 Jaguars-Browns Officiating Controversy, also referred to as the Bottlegate or The Beer Bottle Game, was an incident in an American football game in the 2001 season of the National Football League between the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns. It occurred in week 14 with the Browns sitting at 6-6, desperate for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Down 15-10 with 1:08 remaining, the Browns were forced to try to convert on 4th and 2 at the Jaguar's 12 yard line. Tim Couch took the snap and passed short to Quincy Morgan, who appeared to bobble the ball after a 3 yard gain, but the referees called it a completed pass. Couch hurried the offense to the line and spiked the ball with :48 remaining. The officials announced that they would review the 4th down conversion, and overturned it, giving the ball to the Jaguars. Enraged, the fans began throwing objects onto the field, including beer bottles. After a few minutes, the officials announced that the game would end 48 seconds early and the officials and players exited the field. However, the league office called, telling them to finish the game. The teams and officials came back onto the field and, after 2 quarterback kneels by the Jaguars, the game was over, 15-10.

2018 NFC Championship Game officiating controversy

The 2018 NFC Championship Game officiating controversy was a play in the American Football 2018 NFC Championship Game in the National Football League between the #2 seeded Los Angeles Rams and the #1 seeded New Orleans Saints. The games was played in Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana and, being the NFC Championship game, was televised nationally on Fox.Just before, Brees completed a 43-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr., moving the Saints all the way to the Los Angeles 13-yard line. The play took place with just 1:49 remaining in regulation when Drew Brees attempted a pass to Tommylee Lewis, who was being covered by Nickell Robey-Coleman. Before the ball reached Lewis, Robey-Coleman delivered a hit and knocked Lewis down, allowing the ball to fall incomplete. The referees did not call a pass interference penalty, sparking the outrage. The Saints managed a field goal, but eventually lost 26-23 in overtime. It was considered by some to be the worst no-call in NFL history.

List of Hail Mary passes in American football

This is a list, ordered by year, of famous Hail Mary plays from collegiate and professional football in the United States.

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