Shoddy, inconsistent officiating making the game hard to enjoy
The replacement refs are beginning to lose control of games, and players know it
West Coast teams are looking very strong after surprising 4-0 week for the NFCW
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Last week I thought the replacement officials were adequate. Watching football Sunday, I felt like a passenger in a car going 20 miles an hour too fast on a mountain road with hairpin turns; we weren't going to die, but it was going to be a dicey ride.
The Philadelphia-Baltimore game, in particular, careened from one wild post-whistle scrum to the next, with no ejections; from one two-minute warning to another (there were two in the fourth quarter, one with 2:05 left in the game); and from one replay reversal to another (there were three reviews and two reversals), including the strangest and most illogical three-minute delay of the day.
With two minutes left in the game and the ball at the Baltimore 1-yard line, Michael Vick went back to pass, with replacement referee Robert Frazier standing five yards behind him, looking directly at Vick. Haloti Ngata rushed, and just as Ngata wrapped up Vick, the quarterback threw a pass about five yards, incomplete, as he fell to the ground.
The CBS replay from behind, in slow-motion, showed Frazier staring at the play and ruling ... nothing. The other officials looked at one another, unsure what to do, and Frazier jogged into the area around the 2-yard line, where a Raven was laying on the ball. Three officials looked at Frazier, who said something, and then head lineman Michael Bell pointed that it was Baltimore's ball, and a first down. "They're ruling Baltimore football!'' an incredulous Greg Gumbel said on TV. Frazier walked away, fiddling with the microphone on his belt, as if he wanted to say something to the disbelieving crowd, then saying nothing, then, a few seconds later, saying the play was under review.
I should hope so.
Three minutes and three seconds later, Frazier emerged from under the hood to say the play was reversed, and it was an incomplete pass.
Frazier was staring at Vick as he was contacted by Ngata, began to fall, and clearly threw the ball five yards down the field. Maybe it's intentional grounding. Maybe it's a simple incompletion. But to miss that call, or, worse, to be too indecisive to not make the call and simply hope someone else had a better view of it and could rescue you from making a game-turning call, illustrates how ill-suited this crew was for a game of this intensity, this magnitude.
At the NBC studios, where I watched the games Sunday, I sat for much of the day with former NFL official Jim Daopoulos, hired by the network as an officiating consultant. Daopoulos thought the replacements did a passable job in Week 1, as most impartial observers would have. But he thought there was something troubling about the Week 2 performances.
"Now the players are taking advantage of the lack of experience and the lack of game-control by the replacement officials,'' Daopoulos said during the second half of the Sunday night game. "They're just too inconsistent. The players are pushing them. And the inconsistency is natural, because this is not something you can learn as quickly as they have to learn it. They don't know what illegal contact is; it's a rule that was put in to allow receivers to be able to run free after five yards, and these crews do not know the rule, or they're not calling it correctly.''
During the day, I saw Daopoulos texting a few times. He was communicating with officials he knew from his years on the field and as an NFL officiating supervisor, a job he left last spring. "The officials want to talk. They want to be back on the field. To a man, they want to come back,'' he said.
Roger Goodell added $1 million to the league's offer to the officials 16 days ago, the last day of substantive talks between the regular officials and the league. Now each side has gone underground; the NFL has dug in, believing it's made its final offer, and the officials have stopped returning phone calls (mine, at least) and emails, clearly figuring they have nothing to say except at the bargaining table. One officiating source told me Sunday there will be pressure this week from the rank-and-file to make one last push to try to get something else from the league, and then settle.
What do I think will happen? Roger Goodell, who thinks he's given enough already (raises of about $50,000 per official over the life of a new contract, while converting to less lucrative pensions, which the league has done with the majority of its full-time employees), will stay dug in. If union leaders Scott Green and Jeff Triplette hear the siren song of their men, I think either this week or next there will be renewed talks, and the deal will get done. But that's if Green and Triplette give in, and I don't know if they will. I sense Green is the hard-liner here. If he's not willing to give in on the pension, the situation could last a while.
Whatever, Joe Flacco said the thing that made the most sense Sunday, and the only thing that's regrettable is he was the losing quarterback in Philadelphia, so what he says can be seen as sour grapes. Flacco said of the NFL: "They talk about the integrity of the game, and I think this is along those lines. The fact that we don't have the normal guys out there is pretty crazy.''
The game in Philadelphia showed that.
Now on with the rest of Week 2.
Five takeaways from Sunday:
1. Handshake, shmandshake. I knew the Georgetown and Michigan coaches (Schwartz, Harbaugh) were too smart, and their PR staffs too worldly wise, to allow the handshake thing to simmer Sunday night. So they shook hands before the game, looking friendly, and spent a good three seconds together post-game in a fraternal shake.
2. Coughlin's right. Schiano's wrong. I agree with playing to the final gun. No problem. But when one team is holding up the white flag, with a quarterback in full kneel-down mode, it's a mistake to pig-pile on him. There's a 1-in-1,000 chance the defense can jar the ball loose before the quarterback kneels and the whistle blows, but more likely what results is the risk of injury, on both sides of the ball. No question in my mind that if Schiano keeps trying to wreck victory formations, his own players will pay for it -- and maybe in the form of retribution from vengeful players in the future.
3. Kudos, Reggie Bush. I have to admit I never thought I'd see the day when Bush carried it 26 times for 172 yards against a front like Oakland's. More about Bush in Tuesday's column, but he did tell me after the game, "This doesn't surprise me. I always knew whatever my role was, and however they want to use me, I can do it.''
4. And kudos to you, Andrew Luck. RGIII last week, Luck this week, with a 20-of-31, 224-yard, two-touchdown, zero-turnover day. "I'm getting more comfortable every day,'' he said from Indianapolis. Luck made a beautiful touchdown throw to Reggie Wayne, a 30-yarder as time ticked down in the first half, looking off the safety -- actually, throwing it over the safety -- and making sure he didn't get too greedy too early in the throw against the Vikings' Cover-2. I asked him what he'd remember most about the day when he thinks back on his first NFL victory. "Adam's kick,'' he said, referring to Adam Vinatieri's 53-yard game-winner in the 23-20 win. "And I'll remember looking like a fool when the refs didn't run the clock when I thought they should. I bet that looked really nice on TV. I'm sure I looked like a fool -- but I'll take it.''
5. Nice run by Tebow. So far the Timmycat has yielded 11 snaps at quarterback and one run -- for 23 yards Sunday at Pittsburgh. We're still waiting for the fun, Rex.
6. A bad, bad injury for Washington. Or two. Defensive end Adam Carriker is likely to have knee surgery -- how serious, we won't know until an MRI today -- and linebacker Brian Orakpo re-injured the pectoral muscle he hurt in 2011. Very bad news for the Redskins.
And in Atlanta tonight, Dunta Robinson steps in for Brent Grimes, one of the best young corners in the league, and he'll bring experience to the Georgia Dome with him. Grimes is gone for the year with an Achilles tear, and if the Falcons are going to have a chance to be great this year, Robinson will be better than adequate in his place. The fact that Robinson didn't play great over the past two years was one of the reasons Atlanta went out and spent $7 million a year on Asante Samuel. Now Robinson's back, with lots of Peyton Manning memories from the 12 times he faced him while a Houston Texan.
"I see a guy who's just knocked the rust off and is still one of the all-time greats,'' said Robinson. I asked him about the NBC video that showed two out patterns, one before neck surgery and one after, showing Manning throwing 2 mph slower today. "I saw that,'' said Robinson. "But to me, that's like Roger Clemens going from 100 miles an hour to 98. He's still got a fastball to strike you out. I've watched Peyton make all the throws, and his balls still drop right into the receivers' chests.
"Our biggest job in this game,'' Robinson told me, "is to make sure we communicate every play, and everyone knows exactly what the other guys are going to do on the play. We can't have one guy hung out to dry, because Peyton will find him if we've got one guy who doesn't know what the others are doing."
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