Of all the regular season losses the Green Bay Packers suffered during the Aaron Rodgers era, the one that still stings for so many Packers fans is the “Fail Mary Game” that took place on Monday Night Football back in Week 3 of the 2012 season. The Packers fell to the Seattle Seahawks on one of the worst calls in recent NFL history. It got so bad that players and coaches around the league were embarrassed by the call made on the field and even the President of the United States weighed in.
The NFL locked out its officials prior to the 2012 season and opened the season with “replacement refs” who struggled to properly call games during the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season.
The Week 3 schedule closed out with the 2-0 Packers traveling to Seattle to take on the 1-1 Seahawks in an important NFC clash.
The game was a low scoring contest with both teams struggling to move the football. The Seattle defense was dominant in the first half, sacking Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times with Chris Clemons picking up four of them.
The only scoring in the first half came on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to wide receiver Golden Tate midway through the second quarter.
At the half, the Packers changed their approach on offense to try to slow down the Seattle pass rush. “We made adjustments and played much better in the second half,” Packers center Jeff Saturday said. “We started running the ball and stopped letting them set the tempo to us. The first half, they were pinning their ears back and bringing as much pressure as they could, and we just weren’t standing up to it and really just got outplayed up front.”
The Packers pulled to within one point in the third quarter on two field goals by Mason Crosby, the first from 29 yards out and the second from 40. The score was 7-6 as the fourth quarter got under way.
On their first possession of the fourth quarter, Rodgers led the Packers on a 16-play, 81-yard drive that featured two key catches by tight end Jermichael Finley and two to James Jones. Running back Cedric Benson finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run and the Packers led 12-7 with 8:53 left in regulation time.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy opted to go for two but Rodgers pass for Jones fell incomplete and the Green Bay lead was five.
The Seahawks went on a long drive that stalled at the Green Bay seven when Wilson’s pass for Tate in the left flat fell incomplete with two minutes left in the game. The Packers got the ball back and had a chance to run out the clock.
Unfortunately, the Packers couldn’t pick up a first down. Benson fumbled on first down but Saturday fell on it five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Benson was stopped for no gain on second down while fullback John Kuhn gained only two yards on third-and-long and the Packers punted from their own 4.
Seattle got the ball back at the Packers 46 after a 41-yard punt by Tim Masthay with no timeouts and just 46 seconds left in the game.
Wilson found Sidney Rice for 22 yards to the Green Bay 24. But three incompletions followed and brought up a 4th-and-10 with eight seconds left on the clock.
On fourth down, Wilson threw the ball for Tate in the left corner of the end zone. Before the ball arrived, Tate shoved Packers defensive back Sam Shields to the ground while trying to get in position to catch the ball in a blatant case of offensive pass interference.
Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings caught the ball but Tate than tried to grab it from him. The two fell to the ground with Jennings never losing possession of the ball.
Two of the replacement officials were on either side of Jennings and Tate. One signaled an interception and a touchback while the other signaled for a touchdown.
After a lengthy discussion and review, the play was somehow ruled a touchdown and the Seahawks were awarded the win.
The Packers were in disbelief. The team showed class by coming out onto the field to line up for the meaningless extra point after being robbed of the victory. The final score was officially 14-12 Seattle.
“It [The ball] was pinned to my chest the whole time, even when we were in the pile,” Jennings told reporters after the game.
“He did [shove me],” Shields said. “But the refs came up with their decision, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”
Tate was asked about the shove and replied slyly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The league office later reviewed the play and determined that offensive pass interference definitely should have been called on Tate and that the Packers should have won the game. The replay was unable to alter the call on the field which eventually was ruled a touchdown after the replacement refs huddled together.
“That was the toughest regular-season loss I’ve ever had because I feel like it was taken from us,” veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said.
After the game, Twitter was full of anger and disbelief at the call and the poor performance of the replacement officials. Players and coaches from around the league including Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke out against the call.
Even President Barack Obama weighed in and added, “We’ve got to get our refs back,” the President said and Obama is a Bears fan.
Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop tweeted, “Accountability: The moment a player does something to embarrass the shield, swift & immediate action takes place! WHY not now?! Jussayin.”
The good news was that the controversy and embarrassment surrounding the way the game ended and the poor performance by the replacement officials forced the NFL to settle with the regular officials and end the lockout. But it was too late to get the Packers the win they deserved.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in all my years of football,” McCarthy said after the game.
More than a decade later, it still stings.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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