Now that one team has lost a game because of a botched call by replacement refs, the fear that it could happen again is spreading.
"Every player in this league worries about it," Giants defensive captain Justin Tuck said Tuesday, a day after the Packers lost to the Seahawks on a game-winning touchdown that likely should have been ruled a game-ending interception. "I know players are on eggshells and the replacement referees are on eggshells because they know that everything that they say, whether it's right or wrong, is going to be scrutinized. I look at it as a lose-lose situation."
It took three weeks for it to happen, but on Monday night the replacement officials finally cost a team a win. On the final play of the Seahawks' 14-12 "win" over the Packers, the call determined the victor.
Russell Wilson threw a 24-yard Hail Mary pass on the final snap that appeared to be intercepted in the end zone by Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings. But as they were on the ground, Seahawks receiver Golden Tate wrestled for the ball with Jennings. Two replacement officials ran over, and one of them signaled it as the game-winning touchdown. The play was reviewed at length and replacement referee Wayne Elliott declared that the ruling on the field stood.
On Tuesday the league issued a statement regarding the play, admitting that offensive pass interference should have been called against Tate -- an infraction that is not reviewable -- and noting that the call of a simultaneous catch was reviewable since it occurred in the end zone.
"Referee Wayne Elliott 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 statement read. "The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review . . . The result of the game is final."
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 of the NFL rulebook covers simultaneous catches and states: "If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both 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."
That second part is what most who watched the game or the thousands of replays of it that have been eyed since believe happened.
"You play that play over 10 times, a regular bar-going fan would be able to tell you that was an interception and that definitely was not a touchdown," Tuck said at the launch of the fifth year of his RUSH for Literacy program in Manhattan.
It was the second straight Monday Night game - the league's prime time showcase event each week - that was tarnished by poor officiating. Last week the Falcons and Broncos played in a game that took nearly four hours to complete due to constant huddles and conferences among the officials. It was after that game that some players around the league, including several Giants, started wondering aloud if the replacement officials were impacting the integrity of the game.
Even before Monday night's call, players were calling the officiating an "embarrassment." Saints quarterback Drew Brees, in a pregame interview on ESPN Radio, said there is "definitely a lack of confidence in what's going to get called" and said "it's getting to a point where it's pretty horrendous and it's an embarrassment to the league and the way it's being conducted."
Tuck echoed those sentiments.
"It's unfortunate that the NFL, America's game, has been reduced to what it is," Tuck said. "I think a lot of people are looking at it as a joke, honestly. I saw a lot of people refer to it as reality TV and things of that nature . . . Games are just being tossed up like as if you were throwing dice on a craps table."
Near the actual craps tables, Las Vegas oddsmakers said $300 million or more changed hands worldwide on the controversial ending to Monday's game.
The debate over the call on Monday night spread beyond the NFL's vast universe. New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney issued a press release saying he planned to introduce legislation that would prohibit the playing of sporting events with replacement officials. Such a law, if passed, would obviously cover games play at MetLife Stadium, home of both the Giants and Jets.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was elected largely on an anti-union stance, weighed in on the labor disagreement between the NFL and the officials advocating for a settlement. Turns out his Packers allegiance outweighs his philosophical ones.
Even Barack Obama voiced an opinion on the call. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president, an avid sports fan, watched the game and "thinks there was a real problem with that call." Carney called the play "very distressing for every American football fan."
And, apparently, for football players too. Tuck, who voiced concern about the impact replacement officials could have on player safety, said Tuesday that he is now worried about the impact on games. And, trickling down, jobs. If a team misses the playoffs, he noted, players or coaches could be fired.
"I'm very curious to see how this is going to go because it has cost a team a win," Tuck said. "And if you look at the last two champions, Green Bay and ourselves, one win would have cost us a playoff berth. I honestly believe this is inexcusable."