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Everyone is talking about how poorly the replacement officials are doing, and I can’t say I’m surprised at how bad the first three weeks of the season have turned out. No one could have thought these refs, who are mostly from high school, junior college, or even arena football, could handle the speed and pressure of officiating on the national stage of the NFL. The preseason and Week 1 didn’t turn out too bad, but you also have to think most starters aren’t playing in the preseason, and Week 1 is where a lot of those very same players are shaking off some of the rust.
Weeks 2 and 3 have had different results.
The players figured out in Week 1 what they could get away with, and they have been getting away with plenty. While it can be argued that holding occurs on most plays in the NFL, the amount of blatant holding by offensive lines around the league is incomprehensible. On the defensive side, the refs don’t seem to understand the differences between illegal contact and pass interference. And far too many times the refs call completely opposite penalties leading everyone watching to believe what is most likely true — that these guys have no clue what they are doing on the field.
To blame these officials is futile. They were outmatched from the first whistle. They are being intimidated by coaches and players, and appear afraid to make a call. However, they’re only doing what they are supposed to do, and that’s be replacement officials while the owners continue to lock out the real officials. The real bad guys in this story are the owners and their puppet, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Just one year after the players were locked out by owners trying to line their pockets as much as possible, they’re doing the same to the officials. Instead of each owner coughing up roughly $100,000, which is chump change to them, they’re letting the league become a joke, with replacement officials who are flat out unqualified to officiate at this level. It’s baffling how the owners are so hesitant to make the right call to protect the game that has made them rich. They wanted to pinch pennies in regards to the players last year — you know, the guys who actually take all the risk and are the reason there is an NFL.
Now, they’re doing the same to the officials who maintain order between the sidelines every game. Skirmishes after the whistle are occurring more frequently as players continue to play chippy football because no one is disciplining them. Instead the coaches get fined for their reactions towards the fake refs. Now, there is no order.
This weekend in particular was absolutely terrible. In the game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, both teams were on the receiving end of awful calls that swayed the momentum one way or the other. The game ended with a field goal that very well could have been ruled no good, but there was no explanation. Instead the officials sprinted off the field.
During the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders game, a chop block that went uncalled almost blew out the knee of Steelers’ defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. If the penalty was called as it should have been, the Raiders would have been bumped out of field goal range. Instead there was no call, and Sebastian Janikowski nailed the game winning field goal.
Last night was the icing on top of the cake. As everyone’s likely seen and heard from Monday night’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, quarterback Russell Wilson threw a last minute hail mary into the endzone. Seattle receiver Golden Tate clearly pushed Packers’ defender Sam Shields, which should have been offensive pass interference and the game would have ended. Then Packers’ defensive back M.D. Jennings appeared to have intercepted the pass. As Jennings came down to the ground Tate attempted to grab the ball, but all replays show Jennings is in complete possession of the ball. The ruling should have either been offensive pass interference or an interception by Jennings, resulting in the game winning touchback. Instead the fake refs rule it to be simultaneous possession, awarding Tate and the Seahawks with the game winning touchdown. Absolutely unbelievable.
The sad thing is nothing will change. Steve Young said it best last Monday after the game when he stated that nothing will change because the demand for the NFL is “inelastic.” For instance, the Ravens and Patriots game did better in the ratings than the primetime Emmy’s. The fact is, America loves football and will watch it with real or replacement refs. The owners are sitting back watching this debacle unfold week after week, but they keep counting their cash and realize they are still making tons of money despite the poor officiating. All the fans, players, coaches, and media members will complain day after day that something needs to be done, but as long as the money keeps rolling in, why would the owners change anything?
Hopefully this all gets resolved soon because I’m sure I’m not the only one who is tired of watching these refs stumble their way through every game. If and when the lockout is resolved and the real officials return, just remember when we inevitably criticize the calls they make, that we can have it a hell of a lot worse.