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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The NFL is defending the latest controversial call by replacement refs as howls of injustice and incompetence reverberate across the country. Today, even President Obama and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan criticized the refs for the call that ended yesterday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.

(SOUNDBITE OF NFL GAME)

MIKE TIRICO: The game's final play is a (unintelligible) loft to the end zone, which is blocked ball by Tate who's getting - simultaneous. Who has it? Who'd they give it to? Touchdown.

BLOCK: And with that call, Seattle won. The derided call raises questions about how long the game can withstand a lockout of regular referees by NFL owners. For more, NPR's Mike Pesca joins me. And Mike, let's review that last play. It was a Hail Mary pass. Seattle needed a touchdown to win. What happened?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yeah, it seems exciting the way Mike Tirico of ESPN said, it was actually calamitous. And this was actually the only game in "Monday Night Football" history that ended on a touchdown during regulation. That normally would not be enough to get us to talk about it today. But what happened was, the defensive player, a guy by the name of M.D. Jennings caught the ball. That means it's an interception. He had it cradled within his chest. The offensive player, Golden Tate, had his hands in there. But to everyone's eye it would seem that it was an interception and therefore, no touchdown.

BLOCK: Everyone's eye but the referees on the field apparently.

PESCA: Yeah, there was one important guy who didn't agree, and he was the referee who raised his hands about his head and then there was a review that went nowhere. And today, the NFL issued a statement that everyone expected it to issue which was, we're not going to be overruling the call on the field. It did make a note though, that, I'll quote from it "Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference which would have ended the game." So it's an odd construction, but it really says, we screwed up. And not even on the exact play that everyone's howling about.

BLOCK: And this has drawn so much outrage, I mean does this mean, is this the final straw? The question is, will this spur the owners to settle this lockout with the NFL referees?

PESCA: Right. So there are two things that are going on that seem very much intertwined. I'm not sure that they are. The refereeing is horrible. You know, it seems like a subjective statement but just look at all these games. The games are going longer. They're calling more and more penalties. Player after player are tweeting. The ESPN crew issuing sort of cri de coeur, you'll see Trent Dilfer and Steve Young, these two NFL quarterbacks who won Super Bowls, saying, the game is being sullied. But none of that might matter. The only thing that really matters is what the owners think. And if the owners want to present themselves as staunch negotiators, they might not be swayed by the public outcry at all.

BLOCK: I like this tweet from the Packers guard, T.J. Lange, Mike: Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs. Big question, how much will the situation hurt the game in the long term if at all?

PESCA: Yeah, you know, this is one thing that the NFL always says, that the ratings aren't going to go down. I wonder how much they want to ride on that supposition. Because sure, it's three games of the season. Every team is still more or less in it and they had close games. What about when the games get a little boring? What about when your team is all but eliminated? What if the loose, jangly, not-tight nature of the way these referees are refereeing the game really has an impact on the viewers? It could hurt ratings and when you talk about the dollars that they're apart. It's really a pension dispute. It's really miniscule. It's about $30 million dollars over seven years. The NFL makes $9.5 billion dollars a year.

BLOCK: And you figure, Mike, we're looking at replacement refs for awhile?

PESCA: Well, yeah. I mean even if they settle, the NFL, the regular refs could step right in there but they didn't have any preseason. They would get up to speed. But I think everyone who knows the game looks at not just this situation, but all these horrible pass interference calls and calls that really affected the outcomes of many games, not knowing where to spot the ball, not knowing simple rules. And they all say, give us the guys who've been doing this their whole lives. We'll get back to the NFL as we know and love it.

BLOCK: And briefly, Mike, some people have called this the worst call ever. What do you think?

PESCA: That is totally not true. It was just in the biggest moment while everyone was watching. And Golden Tate disagrees. Exactly.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Mike Pesca, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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