With the regular NFL officials still out on strike, it's becoming quite common to hear a bit of whining and gnashing of teeth from coaches, players, fans and even media members each and every week about the job that the replacement officials have been doing in the preseason and so far in the regular season.
Perhaps the most popular quote coming out of week 2 regarding the replacement zebras was from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who, after his team lost a 24-23 heart-breaker to the Philadelphia Eagles, said that the replacement officials are "affecting the integrity of the game." I guess Flacco's biggest beef was about an offensive pass interference call that negated a Baltimore touchdown. If that's the case, that's pretty ironic, considering that the Ravens were benefactors of a heck of a lot of questionable defensive pass interference calls in 2011; calls that may have affected the integrity of the their 12-4 record.
But I digress.
When it comes to the job that the replacement officials have been doing so far, Flacco may have a point. In fact, if you watched the Steelers/Jets clash on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, you know he does.
Steelers corner Ike Taylor probably agrees with Flacco's sentiment, especially after two very questionable pass interference penalties called against him while trying to cover former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Holmes' best move on Sunday was to pantomime throwing a flag after every incomplete pass thrown in his direction. Receivers have been doing that for years, but it never really worked until the replacements started officiating games this season. The first one helped lead to a Jets' touchdown in the first quarter. That was kind of bogus, but at least there was some contact on the play. The one that occurred in the fourth quarter was ridiculous. Taylor did nothing but shadow Holmes perfectly on a skinny post and never touched him, save for some brief hand-checking before the five yard cut-off point. Ryan Clark caused an incomplete pass after separating Holmes from the football on the play, and when the flag was thrown, I thought it was going to be for unnecessary roughness. That would have been egregious, of course, considering it was a perfectly clean hit by Clark, but at least it would have been based on some contact. Instead, it was pass interference on Taylor. Maybe the official who threw the flag hated the "shadow game" when he was a kid. "What's the shadow game? "What's the shadow game?" "Stop it!" "Stop it!" "I'm telling Mom!" "I'm telling Mom!"
I guess I can see where replacement officials could have problems with interpreting pass interference penalties. The regular guys have been struggling with that for years--show me an NFL game played over the last 10 seasons that didn't have a questionable pass interference call or two, and I'll show you a game that you made up in your mind. Someone just needs to tell these guys that a wide receiver gesturing for a pass interference flag isn't like a head coach throwing a challenge flag; you don't have to honor it each time.
Of course, before the replacement officials learn that, maybe they should learn how to review a play. If you're an honest Steelers fan, you'll probably admit that the egregious PI calls that went against Ike on Sunday were off-set by a replay challenge that was botched by the referee and went in Pittsburgh's favor. The play in-question occurred during the Steelers glorious 14-play, fourth quarter drive that ate up 10:13 of clock and resulted in the game-sealing touchdown by running back Isaac Redman. On a running play during the drive, Redman appeared to be stopped behind the line of scrimmage, but instead of that, he did what he normally does, and refused to go down on the first, second, third or fourth attempt to tackle him and managed to get very positive yardage on the play. After a Jets defender finally got Redman on the ground, he wound up with the football in his possession. Unfortunately for New York, the play was whistled dead. The replays showed that it might have been a fumble, but it was also pretty inconclusive. Jets head coach Rex Ryan went ahead and challenged the play, anyway. Hey, why not? New York was trailing 20-10 at that point, and they had nothing to lose. I was a little worried, because, inconclusive or not, it was close, and this was a replacement official reviewing the play. However, I breathed a little sigh of relief when I saw the play in its entirety. Redman's knee was down well behind the line of scrimmage, before he even started his extra effort, and no fumble could have been possible. I know I have even less credibility than a replacement ref--I'm a blogger--but I'm fairly certain that referees are allowed to correct any call that was missed during a play, and not just what is being challenged. The Steelers would face a 2nd and long, but at least they would still have the football and could burn another minute or so off the clock. When the referee came from under the hood and said that the call on the field would stand, I was pleasantly surprised, but I knew that Pittsburgh got away with one.
All-in-all, everything that happened in the Jets game was a wash. New York didn't benefit too much from the egregious pass interference calls on Ike, and the Steelers probably wouldn't have lost the game even if the referee made the right call on the Ryan challenge.
But one of these weeks, a bad call of epic proportions is going to decide an NFL game, and then all hell will break loose. That very well could have happened this past Sunday. For those of you who don't know, an NFL replacement official, whose facebook page clearly indicates that he's a hardcore Saints fan, was literally hours from officiating the game between the Saints and Panthers. Fortunately, ESPN alerted the NFL of this, and the official was removed before game-time.
What's next? Are we going to hear that certain replacement officials are connected to organized men with last names that end in vowels?
Let's hope the NFL and its regular officials can come to an understanding and end the labor dispute soon. I know "understanding" and "labor dispute" are rarely synonymous, but it's paramount that the two sides iron things out before it gets really ugly.
After the game, Redman was asked by a reporter about the play in-which his knee was clearly down, and he said, "Not my problem." The reporter laughed, Isaac laughed, and I laughed when I heard it.
However, one of these days, these replacements could cost the Steelers in a big way. I doubt Redman or any of us will be laughing then.