A number of dubious calls during NFL games in week 3 of the 2012 season finally resulted in a settlement of the dispute between the NFL and its regular game officials.
The NFL locked out their regular game officials before the preseason began. In their place the league used replacement game officials; people who mostly had officiated Division II or Division III college football games in the past but who had not previously worked NFL games. The feedback on the quality of the officiating by the replacements-from players, coaches and fans-was instant and it was very negative. The replacement officials were not accustomed to the speed and physicality of NFL football. They didn’t understand the rules nearly as well as the regular officials do and while they were doing the best they could under the circumstances, the game was suffering damage due to their presence, or more accurately, the absence of the regular game officials.
Still, the NFL persisted with the lockout and the replacement officials were still in place for the first three weeks of the regular season. Week 3 of the 2012 NFL season however made clear just how much damage the NFL brand was sustaining due to the lockout. In a game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens a Ravens field goal at the end of regulation, which gave Baltimore a 31-30 win, was close to being wide of the right upright. So close it should have been reviewed on replay. The kick, which was called good by the officials on the field, was never reviewed.
In another game, the San Francisco 49ers trailed the Minnesota Vikings 24-13 late in the 4th quarter. The Vikings had possession of the ball and had forced the 49ers to use all of their time outs. With no time outs remaining 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh threw his red challenge flag on to the field after Vikings running back Toby Gerhart lost the football during a scrum at the end of a play. Instead of denying the 49ers challenge because they were out of time outs, the replacement officials working the game honored the challenge and eventually awarded the ball to San Francisco. The Vikings regained possession a couple of plays later when they intercepted a 49ers pass, and the 24-13 Vikings lead held up as the final score but the replacement officials blundered on that challenge by the 49ers.
The final straw happened during Monday night’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The Packers only touchdown drive of the game was kept alive when on 3rd and 2 from the 47 yard line, the Packers failed to convert. Rather than having to punt the Packers were awarded and automatic 1st down when the replacement officials flagged Seattle for an atrocious pass interference penalty. The Packers, trailing 7-6 at the time, went on the score a go ahead touchdown and took the lead 12-7.
Seattle began to move the ball late in the 4th Quarter ending up at the Packers 24 yard line with time enough for run one “Hail Mary” play. The play ended up being the final straw for the NFL and replacement officials. Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings tussled for possession of the ball in the end zone. The replacement officials badly missed a push in the back by Tate against another Packers defender that should have been called offensive pass interference. Further, what looked like simultaneous possession of the football by both Tate and Jennings at the conclusion of the play in real time speed, showed on replay to be an interception by the Packers’ Jennings. The replacement officials called a touchdown on the field and “confirmed” the call on the field with replay. A blown call had clearly changed the final outcome of a game.
The NFL still had not gotten the message. On Tuesday they backed up the replacement officials’ error on the simultaneous possession of the ball and confirmed the final score of 14-12 Seattle in a released statement, although they did acknowledge the missed interference call on Tate.
League offices, however, were flooded with more than 70,000 emails and voicemails. On Tuesday negotiations between the NFL and regular game officials magically resumed. Late on Wednesday the league announced a tentative agreement with the regular officials. The agreement is basically along the lines of what the regular officials had proposed. It was also announced that the regular officials would return to the field beginning with Thursday night’s game between Baltimore and the Cleveland Browns.
The NFL commissioner should be embarrassed by taking such a hard stand against the game officials. Player safety, integrity in terms of the final outcome of games and the trust of their fan base all were placed at great risk for no clear reason.
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