The NFL reaffirmed the ruling that gave the Seattle Seahawks a disputed 14-12 win over the Green Bay Packers as information came out that the side judge at the heart of the controversial call never had worked above the Division III college level before becoming a replacement official.
The league provided information stating that Lance Easley had four years of officiating experience, none above the Division III level. That revelation comes after the league said Seattle's last-second touchdown pass should not have been overturned but conceded that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate should have been called for offensive pass interference before the catch.
In a related development, the league's meetings Tuesday with representatives of locked-out officials lasted until 2 a.m. Wednesday in an attempt to resolve the impasse, and negotiations are expected to resume later in the day, sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. However, the sources also said the two sides have gone as far as they can go in the talks.
On the flight home, Packers guard T.J. Lang said players debated going on strike or taking a knee on every play in upcoming games if the replacement referee issue isn't solved, according to 97.1 The Ticket.
"Whatever it takes, it's just a total embarrassment to everybody watching the game, the players in the game, it's not fun to be part of something like that. ... If it keeps going on, it's going to get ugly," Lang said during a Tuesday afternoon interview on the "Valenti & Foster Show."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't buying the official explanation for the controversial, decisive call.
Speaking on his weekly radio show on Milwaukee's ESPN 540 AM on Tuesday afternoon, Rodgers said the NFL's willingness to use replacement officials who aren't up to the task is a sign that the league cares more about money than it does about tarnishing the game.
Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt has lodged a complaint with the NFL commissioner over the Packers' controversial loss. Following Monday's outcome, more than 70,000 voicemails were left at the league offices, an NFL source told ESPN.
"I am writing to express my disappointment and displeasure," Schmitt wrote in a letter Tuesday to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"... One of the greatest things about the NFL is how a small community team like the Green Bay Packers can exist and succeed in the NFL despite large-market teams," Schmitt continued. "The Packers are in a position to succeed, in part because of this community and the historical integrity of the league. Unfortunately, last night's game creates a negative perception of the NFL brand, which in turn jeopardizes the Packers' chance for success as well as the potential to negatively affect our local economy."
Amid the furor over the call, Goodell met with representatives of the locked-out officials; however, the discussions had been planned before the controversy. An agreement is not expected Tuesday night, a source told ESPN's Ed Werder.
According to a source, there have been ongoing negotiations over the past week. In conversations Monday afternoon, the parties scheduled sessions for Tuesday.
In light of Monday's dispute, the NFL issued a statement on the labor dispute with the referees.
"There is broad agreement that the quality and consistency of officiating can and should be improved. How to accomplish that is a critical issue separating the two sides in this negotiation," the statement read. "While the officials' union would like to turn this into purely an economic dispute, we have told the union and the federal mediator that we are prepared to make reasonable economic compromises and that we will invest more money in officiating as long as it assures long-term improvement.
"We have made a number of specific proposals to accomplish that, including by developing a deeper, more diverse talent pool that is trained in NFL officiating earlier and more intensively."
The ire of coaches, players and fans at the struggles of the replacements had been steadily building this season, and it reached an apex Monday with what everybody had feared would happen: a highly questionable call deciding a game.
On the final play of "Monday Night Football," Russell Wilson heaved a 24-yard pass into a scrum in the end zone with Seattle trailing 12-7. Tate shoved away a defender with both hands, and the NFL acknowledged Tuesday he should have been penalized, which would have clinched a Packers victory. But that lack of a call cannot be reviewed by instant replay.
Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings then both got their hands on the ball, though the Packers insisted Jennings had clear possession for a game-ending interception.
"It was pinned to my chest the whole time," Jennings said.
Instead, the officials ruled on the field that the two had simultaneous possession, which counts as a reception. Once that happened, the NFL said, the referee was correct that no indisputable visual evidence existed on replay to overturn the touchdown call.
During his weekly radio appearance Tuesday morning on KIRO-AM in Seattle, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he understands why there is so much outrage about the call that awarded Tate a touchdown. But he said the call ruling it a simultaneous catch, which awards the reception to the offense, was correct.
Easley was among the least experienced members of the referee Wayne Elliott's crew of replacement officials despite the NFL previously requiring all officials to have 10 years of experience with at least five in major college football.
Elliott is a Texas grad with 21 years as a college and professional official in Division II, III and has other experience.
Back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn, who went to Langston and Oklahoma, has nine years of experience in Division I, II and III and has other experience.
The NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired. Unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, the league opened the season with replacements, most with experience only in lower levels of college football.
Information from ESPN's Ed Werder and the Associated Press was used in this report.