Before we start up with the botched calls made by the NFL's replacement officials on Sunday, it should be said that for the most part, the new guys handled themselves well, especially in the early games. It's tough to expect a bunch of refs from the Lingerie League, the MEAC and various sub-conferences to take to the speed of the NFL without far more training than these people received. For the most part, our issue is with the NFL for putting these officials in such a ridiculous position. However, when you're talking about specific games and plays, we can't withhold the names to protect the non-innocent. And since the NFL has now set up the schedules for the replacements through the first five games of the 2012 season, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, we'd better get used to this.
We've already gone into excruciating detail about the officials in the Arizona Cardinals' 20-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks, and their confusion regarding what is and what is not an injury timeout. That resulted in the Seahawks getting a fourth timeout in the second half, and the refs were lucky that the Seahawks didn't get a touchdown late in the game. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll later said that he asked the refs whether he had an extra timeout, and he was told that he did, even when he did not.
"I obviously feel a lot better than I would have had we not won the game," Cardinals head coach said on Monday.
• On to the Sunday night game between the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Relatively lost in the main story — Peyton Manning's amazing comeback from injury — was the crew led by referee Gerald Wright didn't know a simple rule about how conversions are handled after touchdowns around the two-minute warning. This came up just after Denver cornerback Tracy Porter returned a Ben Roethlisberger interception 43 yards for a touchdown on a play that started at the 2:10 mark. Then, the automatic review of any scoring play ... and then, there was a bit of a clang with the rulebook.
After NBC went to commercial and came back, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth explained what happened.
"We're back for the conversion here," Michaels said, when back on the air. "The officials mistakenly called for the two-minute warning. Even though the clock is [at] 1:58, you had a scoring play, which of course was reviewed. No question whether it was touchdown or not, but you have to do the conversion before the two-minute warning. Even at 1:58. So, a blown call."
Then, under his breath, Michaels said, "What else is new?" as Collinsworth snickered next to him. The Broncos failed to pick up the 2-point conversion on an inside draw to running back Willis McGahee, but still won the game, 31-19.
Not a game-changer, but you'd like to know that the refs know a rule that most fans who watch games every week most likely instinctively understand.
• Perhaps the most discussed game from an officiating standpoint was the San Francisco 49ers' 30-22 win over the Green Bay Packers. Around the blogosphere and Twitterverse, David White's crew drew a failing grade. The Packers were on the wrong end of a 30-22 score, and acknowledged that Aaron Rodgers couldn't get much going against the 49ers' excellent defense, but there were some serious officiating concerns, as well.
"The refs are going to call their calls," said Packers receiver Randall Cobb. The second-year player had a 75-yard return touchdown flagged and reversed at first. Then, the crew waved off the penalty and reviewed the entire mess in an episode that seemed to take 30 minutes. "We have to play above the refs. We can't put anything on the refs. We need to look at this like we didn't do the things we needed to do."
"When you look at the first half, the one glaring statistic next to the punts were the penalties," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. "Nine penalties in the first half, it's very difficult to overcome that."
Both McCarthy and 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh were on the field more often than usual to bark at the refs over various calls, and the game took 3 1/2 hours to complete because there were so many reviews.
• Mario Williams of the Buffalo Bills will get the lowest amount of sympathy regarding any officiating complaints. In his first regular-season game for the Bills, the former Houston Texans defensive end said that his struggles against New York Jets reserve right tackle Austin Howard were due to a series of non-calls.
"Pass blocking doesn't consist of illegal hands to the face just about every play, which, when somebody tells you that, and you're 5 yards away from it, and you walk away like you don't see him telling you you're getting punched in the face every time, then that dictates somebody like myself having to take care of that on my own," Williams said. "It's not something that's really going to dictate something, but what are you going to [do] about it? You're getting off the ball and getting punched in the face, literally — not by accident — just about every other time, and that's a penalty, last time I checked, unless they changed it with the new CBA or something. Last time I checked, that's a penalty."
"If that was an issue, I think they would've thrown some flags," Howard responded. "I didn't see any flags out there."
Well, that's what we don't yet know. If the replacement refs continue through the season, teams will get a good baseline on who calls what and how often. For now, everyone's a bit in the dark about things because the officials themselves are trying to ramp up to warp speed under difficult circumstances.
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