Replacement officials continue to make a mockery of the NFL

"We expected going in, just like the players going through the preseason, that every week they would get better. The first week, we had some rough spots and we got better from the first week to the second week and we expect to get better this week, too, and on and on. This is the third week and it seems to me they've had a pretty solid first half. Uneventful, that's exactly what you want. That's the improvement we expect ... these current officials are the ones out there and we'll work with them." -- NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson.

"These officials have been trained. We've been working with them. We think they'll do a very credible job." -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Gentlemen, there are some things you just can't spin.

And one of those things is the simple fact that the NFL's replacement officials are turning the nation's most popular and visible sport into a complete and utter joke. Through the preseason, replacement refs, put in place due to a labor impasse between the league and the NFL Referees' Association, have bungled the simplest things -- clock management, where to spot the ball, and which signal corresponds with a penalty. Official Craig Ochoa even had trouble remembering which city he was in when calling the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 9.

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After a few attendant goofs in Thursday night's games -- most notably in the Tennessee Titans-Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals-Green Bay Packers games -- the beer league refs were at it again. This time, they showed their inexperience with extremely embarrassing calls in two games. First, this knee-slapper in the game between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears:

As much as we can figure, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman ended the first quarter with a defensive pass interference penalty. NFL rules stipulate that a game or a half cannot end on a defensive penalty, unless the penalty is declined by the offense. The refs, led by referee David White, seemed to understand that much. What they failed to understand was that the first quarter is not tied to the same rules. And because they did not realize that, the Giants got an extra untimed play at the end of the first quarter. On a play that started at 0:00 of the first quarter according to the official gamebook, Eli Manning threw a nine-yard pass to Domenik Hixon.

"For the second time in this game, we've come to the end of the first quarter," announcer Greg Gumbel quipped.

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Then, there was this beaut in the second quarter of the Vikings-Chargers game. With 12:27 left in the first half, Vikings running back Lex Hilliard lost control of the ball while still fully upright after a tackle by Chargers safety Eric Weddle. Nonetheless, Wayne Elliot's crew called Hilliard down by contact, and Chargers head coach Norv Turner had to throw the challenge flag. After a very long time indeed, the officials saw fit to reverse their decision. We're waiting for the video on this one, so we'll go with the eyewitness account of Mark Craig of the Star-Tribune:

A disgusted [Chargers head coach Norv] Turner whipped his red challenge flag high into the air before the Vikings had a chance to snap the next play into action. The ruling was overturned, giving the Chargers the ball at the Vikings' 31-yard line. Seven plays later, they kicked a 34-yard field goal to take a 6-0 lead.

Vikings punter Chris Kluwe may have put it best on his Twitter account:

The NFL really needs to kiss and make up with the refs. These replacements are horrible. Frankly, it's kind of embarrassing. I'm sure they're trying hard, but they're just not good. So many blown calls tonight in both directions.

Speaking of ball control and blown calls, let's play a game of, "What Is an Interception, Anyway?"

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Chargers defensive back DeAndre Presley would like to know. And we would like to know why it takes three flippin' years to make a correct decision on a call that is crushingly obvious.

Now, consider this -- even though Norv's challenges were both correct, he had just one remaining in the game, because he had expended those first two. If the NFL is going to continue on with officials at this level of incompetence, the least it could do is to give the coaches an automatic challenge on every single play.

The most the NFL could do would be to come to terms with the real officials, because this is going to get very ugly when the regular season starts and the games actually count.

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