Officially, the NFL has a Problem

Ben Austro

After basking in the shadows of relative obscurity during the opening week of the season, the replacement referees found themselves struggling as if they were some intentionally mismatched contestants competing on a bizarre NFL reality show. The players, sensing that their peacekeepers were in over their heads, started to take advantage. The Ravens-Eagles game saw many scuffles, but no ejections. In the Monday night game, a few Falcons and Broncos players started some post-play activity in the middle of the first quarter. There was no stern warning to both teams at that time, and later, a full-on fracas erupted near the end of the quarter.

Balls are being spotted incorrectly. Referees are having issues with resetting the play clock or game clock. Game-delaying conferences are increasing, while uncertain on-field referees confer with the game supervisor, a veteran from the league officiating headquarters stationed in the pressbox. This eye-in-the-sky proofreader doesn't interject in judgement calls, but will correct errors in administration, such as the wrong penalty yardage.

Obviously, even the game supervisors are being overworked. Longtime supervisor and former side judge Neely Dunn failed to correct the yardage on a defensive holding penalty that gave the Broncos five bonus yards on a touchdown drive. In the third quarter, Dunn did intervene on another defensive holding penalty, but the delay allowed the Broncos to regroup.

On Sunday, the Rams were allowed to keep the ball after successfully challenging a fumble ruling. Since all challenges on turnovers are the exclusive domain of the replay official, the Rams should not have been allowed to challenge. In fact, they should have been penalized 15 yards. Shortly after, the Rams were penalized 15 yards when running back Steven Jackson spiked the ball either believing he scored a touchdown or frustrated that it was not ruled a touchdown. Any spike in the field of play is a five-yard penalty (unless the ball is spiked at an opponent), but the crew incorrectly opted for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct foul.

In separate games, both the Steelers and the 49ers were flagged for pass interference, when, not only was the receiver not interfered with, but he was not even touched. The Seahawks were penalized for an illegal chop block, however, the act was legal. Holding calls (obvious ones, not judgement calls) were missed league-wide. Illegal contact is apparently not called anymore.An offsides call caused the Rams to kick off a second time, and one of the special teamers pulled a hamstring on the second kickoff. Rams coach Jeff Fisher examined the film and found the offsides call was in error, and the injury could have been avoided.

Joe Vitt
Joe Vitt

USPresswireThe honeymoon appears to be over for the replacement officials.

Since the NFL is embroiled in a labor dispute, the corporate line is that this is all part of the game. "Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure,” said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. “As we do every season, we will work to improve officiating and are confident that the game officials will show continued improvement.”

The regular union referees have been locked out by the league since June 3. Each week passes, and the two sides have not met to negotiate in over two weeks. Neither side wants to blink in this high-stakes staring contest. The league is stubborn by adopting a take-it-or-leave-it approach. The union probably sees the performance of the replacement officials starting to wear on the fans' confidence as their leverage. With no deal in place yet, there is a near certainty that replacements will be on the field in Week 3.

The league will continue to test the union's resolve. The players will test the officials to see what they can get away with. And the grinding delays are testing the fans.

Ben Austro is the founder and editor of  Follow him on Twitter: @footballzebras

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