The NFL would like you to believe that its current replacement officials are almost as good as the real ones it has locked out. But with 6:08 left in the second quarter of Wednesday night's New England Patriots-New York Giants game, we saw something that told an entirely different story.
After the Giants' Steve Weatherford punted the ball from his own 20-yard line, the flags were thrown, and there was a long conference between crew chief Donald King and two of his buddies. King then walked over to Bill Belichick and had a little talk with the Patriots' head coach, and King then prepared to make the call.
"We have fouls by both teams during the kick," King said. "We have illegal shift by the kicking team. After the kick ... "
King was then interrupted by one of his officials, who informed him that both penalties were on the kicking team. Whoops!
"After the kick, we have a 15-yard penalty, re-kick, 5-yard penalty," King said, after mistakenly pointing at the Patriots' side and eventually getting the teams right. Then, as the Giants prepared to re-kick from their 15-yard line, there was a whistle stopping the play, and there was a first in NFL history: a play stoppage so that the refs could figure out what exactly the heck they were doing. They also had to get the play clock started, which is kind of important. King then turned his microphone back on, and probably wished he hadn't.
"Correction on the reporting of the foul. Both teams were ... both off ... both fouls were on the kicking team. Five-yard penalty."
The camera then panned to Patriots players laughing and making fun of King on the sideline which seemed to be an entirely appropriate response. But, wait! King wasn't done butchering this one. After another interminable delay in which the replacements once again discussed just what the heck they were doing, we had this:
"Both fouls were committed by the kicking team. The first foul was an illegal shift by the kicking team. The second foul, after the kick, was a personal foul, face mask. We ... enforce the 5-yard penalty and re-kick."
This isn't a simple blown call. Most people understand that those will happen. The speed of the professional game makes perfection impossible. This is a crew of officials led by a man who doesn't understand which team should be penalized, how to get a game clock started or how to make a simple penalty call. NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said in a Tuesday memo to all 32 teams that these officials are improving, which begs the question: If they're improving, how unmercifully bad were they before?
"No, we don't," Anderson told Scott Hanson of the NFL Network, when asked if the use of replacement officials compromises the integrity of the game. "We are going to deploy the best we have available out there, and we think they have gotten better, week in and week out. They will continue to get better. So, while there's no perfect world in officiating, and no one's going to be completely satisfied, whether it's our current officials who are out there working, or our regular officials who were out there working last year. There are always complaints, unfortunately and reasonably, about non-perfection, but that's our world. We're very comfortable that the group of officials that will be out there beginning next week will do a good job for us."
If the NFL is comfortable, it's safe to say that anybody watching the Patriots-Giants game is a bit more squeamish about the whole idea.
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