All around the NFL, players and coaches have had expressed that they have had enough. The labor strife between the league and the referees has to end — now — they contend, as replacement officials continue to make baffling calls during the first two weeks of the season.
The NFL locked out the regular officials in June after their contract expired. Negotiations with the NFL Referees Association broke down several times during the summer, including just before the season, and the league is using replacements for the first time since 2001.
The calamities have been many. One official was pulled from duty because he’s a fan. Another negated a touchdown without ever throwing a penalty flag. Several others had difficulty with basic rules. In Monday night’s Falcons’ victory over Denver, referees more than once lost control of the game and delayed action with several on-field conferences.
The errors of Week 2 of the season were so flagrant that some players are even joking about dipping into their own pockets to settle the contract dispute and get the regular officials back on the field.
“I don’t know what they’re arguing about, but I got a couple of (million) on it, so let’s try to make it work,” Washington defensive back DeAngelo Hall cracked. “I’m sure the locker room could put up some cash and try to help the cause out.”
Just hours before kickoff Sunday, the NFL removed side judge Brian Stropolo from the New Orleans-Carolina game because it was discovered he’s a Saints fan. Stropolo will not be allowed to return as an official until the league completes a review of the circumstances that dictated the action. He had displayed his unabashed passion as a longtime Saints fan on his Facebook page, which has since been disabled. He also posted Sunday’s game assignment, a specific violation of league policy for its officials.
Worse have been the on-field problems.
In Philadelphia’s 24-23 win over Baltimore, two game-altering calls left quarterback Joe Flacco and lineebacker Joe Flacco irate, though it appeared on replay that both calls were accurate. That didn’t make them any less controversial.
Flacco’s scoring pass to receiver Jacoby Jones in the fourth quarter was called back because of offensive pass interference. The official who made the call didn’t throw the yellow flag, though he immediately signaled a penalty.
“I might sound like a little bit of a baby here,” Flacco said, “but for them to make that call, I think, was a little crazy.”
There was confusion later during Philadelphia’s go-ahead drive. First, the two-minute warning occurred twice. Then, quarterback Michael Vick’s forward pass was called a fumble inside the Ravens 5. It was ruled incomplete following a replay, and Vick scored on the next play after a few anxious moments.
“It’s extra stress when you have to sit there and wait,” Vick said. “The one thing you don’t want to do, you don’t want to put the game in the officials’ hands.”
Lewis, like many players around the league, has seen enough.
“The time is now,” he said. “How much longer are we going to keep going through this whole process? I don’t have the answer. I just know across the league teams and the league are being affected by it. It’s not just this game, it’s all across the league. And so if they want the league to have the same reputation it’s always had, they’ll address the problem. Get the regular referees in here and let the games play themselves out.
“We already have controversy enough with the regular refs calling the plays.”