The Seattle Seahawks were awarded a controversial final-play touchdown to beat a shellshocked Green Bay Packers 14-12 on Monday as the NFL's replacement officials were again thrust into the spotlight over a contentious call.
Trailing 12-7 with seconds on the clock, the Seahawks faced fourth down on the Packers' 24-yard line when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a 'Hail Mary' pass into the endzone that was caught simultaneously by Green Bay's M.D. Jennings and Seattle receiver Golden Tate.
Jennings appeared to have established possession of the ball but the referees deemed it a touchdown for Tate, who also appeared to push a defender during the play, and upheld the ruling after reviewing an instant replay.
"It was awful," Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers told reporters of the ruling. "Just look at the replay, and then the fact that it was reviewed. It was awful. That's all I'm going to say about it."
The play was the latest questionable decision made by the replacement referees this season and will fuel the debate over what has been perceived by many as a litany of sub-standard performances.
The stand-in referees, drawn from the ranks of college and semi-professional football, are filling in for regular officials, who have been locked out this season due to a dispute with the League over a new collective bargaining deal.
The off-field dispute is now a major on-field issue with coaches, players and fans becoming increasingly vocal about the botched officiating.
New England coach Bill Belichick and Baltimore's John Harbaugh both showed visible frustration during a penalty-ridden game on Sunday, while Denver coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were fined for publicly criticizing officials following a loss last week.
Even mild-mannered New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees condemned the use of replacement referees on Monday.
"It's been a wild weekend in the NFL and I guess we're a part of it now," Packers coach Mike McCarthy lamented.
The conclusion of Monday's game was delayed for several minutes as Packers (1-2) players had already left the field but were forced to return for the final extra point attempt.
While Green Bay looked on in disbelief, the Seahawks and their home fans celebrated wildly as they improved their record to 2-1 on the season.
"It's just total desperation and we went to a guy that can really make things happen," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This is what it is, (Wilson) has to make things like this happen if he's going to be big time. And he will and he is."
The stunning conclusion to the game overshadowed what had been a gritty defensive battle.
Seattle sacked reigning league MVP Rodgers eight times on the way to forging a 7-0 halftime lead.
The Packers found their running game in the second half and chipped away at the deficit with a pair of field goals in the third and then took the lead through Cedric Benson's one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
However, it all came down to the final play as Russell scrambled to avoid the Green Bay rushers then launched a pass that would win the game and lead to one of the season's biggest talking points.
"I had a feeling it was going to be a touchdown. We came too far for it not to be a touchdown," said Wilson, who finished with a modest 130 passing yards, to Rodgers' 223, and two scores.
"Never give up. That's what I told the guys before we went out there."
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien/Peter Rutherford)