It's every NFL official's goal — regular or replacement — to get through a game without becoming part of the story. Through three weeks of the season, however, the replacements are making more and more headlines as on-field performances seem to be regressing rather than improving. Clashes with coaches, embarrassing moments, confusion about rules and botched judgment calls have been commonplace. That culminated Monday night in the blown call that handed the Seahawks a victory over the Packers. That's merely one of the top officiating follies so far this season. We take a look.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seems like a likable guy. He pulls pranks in training camp. He's buddy-buddy with Will Ferrell. The replacement officials must like him, too. He has been the top beneficiary of their dubious calls so far this season. In Week 1, he was granted a timeout with 30 seconds to play at Arizona even though he already had used his allotment of four. The referee explained that a previous timeout was restored because an injury and incomplete pass had stopped the clock, anyway. The ref was wrong, but the Cardinals held on to win, anyway. That was hardly Carroll's best gift from the officials. More on the big prize later.
Actually, the officials in the Titans-Lions game in Week 3 gave the yards away for free. They spotted the ball wrong on the Titans' field-goal producing drive in overtime — by a whopping 12 yards. They marked a helmet-to-helmet penalty from the spot of the foul, but it should have been from the line of scrimmage because the pass play was incomplete. "I kept on trying to alert them to that fact," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's overtime, I can't challenge anything." Tennessee won 44-41.
No, the NFL hasn't stooped so low as to pull this guy out of the stands to wear the stripes. But the league was embarrassed when it had to pull replacement side judge Brian Stropolo from working the Saints-Panthers game in Week 2 when it learned he is a Saints fan who posted photos of himself in Saints gear on Facebook. Stropolo was benched mere hours before the game.
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy revealed that in Week 2, an official said he needs him to have a big game against the Ravens to help with his fantasy football team. McCoy later said the official was joking. There's funny ha-ha and funny strange. This one's funny strange.
Watch your step
Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree had his work cut out for him in Week 3. Not only did he have the never-quit Buccaneers defense to contend with, but he also had to watch out for the officials' wardrobe. He slipped and fell in the end zone when an official threw his hat in his path. The official was indicating that Ogletree stepped out of bounds on his route, thus becoming ineligible. That was correct. Throwing the hat into the action instead of away from it, that's a replacement wrinkle.
Angry like a Fox
The officiating crew had only a semblance of control during Monday night game between the Broncos and Falcons in Week 2. Both teams scuffled at one point in the game. Denver coach John Fox got into it with the officials when they refused to review a penalty for 12 men on the field. He also came onto the field to dispute a possession call after a fumble. Fox drew a $30,000 fine from the NFL for berating officials. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was fined $25,000.
Challenge? Go right ahead
San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh has been one of the more vocal coaches on the sidelines. Perhaps it's paying off. Harbaugh somehow got two extra challenges and an extra timeout against the Vikings in Week 3. He burned his last timeout with 3:33 to play but then challenged whether Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart had fumbled. Referee Ken Roan not only allowed the challenge, improperly, but he returned the timeout to the 49ers. (The call on the field was overturned.) Because the timeout was restored, Harbaugh was able to challenge another Gerhart fumble just before the two-minute warning, but the Vikings retained possession that time. The Vikings won 24-13.
Runs in the family
Like his brother, Jim, Ravens coach John Harbaugh has had his run-ins with the replacement officials. In a contentious Week 3 game against the Patriots, John Harbaugh drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty while trying to call a timeout. He bumped an official while trying to get his attention to call the timeout. Harbaugh apologized after the game, saying there was no malicious intent.
How's this grab you?
Even the final whistle wasn't enough to end the torment for the officials who worked the Patriots-Ravens game in Week 3. After Ravens coach John Harbaugh chewed their ears off all game, Baltimore won it on a disputed field goal that sailed over an upright as time expired. Patriots coach Bill Belichick then tried to get a word in as the officials darted off the field into the sanctuary of their locker room. Belichick reached out to stop one official, and his momentary grab is likely to result in him grabbing for his wallet when the NFL has its say.
We don't need no stinkin' replays
Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy recovered a fumble by Cleveland's Josh Cribbs in Week 3, but the officials ruled Cribbs was down by contact. OK, we've seen blown calls before. No biggie. But the replacement ref then disallowed the Bills' attempt to challenge the call, saying it's not a reviewable play. Down by contact is reviewable.
One major argument against the NFL’s lockout of officials is that puts players’ safety at risk. Indeed, defensive players have taken full advantage to deliver punishing hits, knowing many replacement officials have the whistle in their pockets. A scary one came in Week 3 when Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious on a helmet-to-chin hit by Pittsburgh’s Ryan Mundy. Heyward-Bey lay in the end zone for 10 minutes and spent a night in the hospital. The Steelers didn’t even draw a penalty.
The picture says it all. One officials calling touchdown, the other touchback. Seems 99.9 percent of the world thought M.D. Jennings grabbed an interception on the final play Monday night to secure a Packers victory at Seattle in Week 3. But the 0.1 percent prevailed, as Golden Tate was awarded a touchdown. So many things went wrong: the call itself, the fact the officials never huddled about the conflicting calls, the fact the referee went to watch the replays without announcing the call on the field, the blatant offensive pass interference that wasn't called. On Tuesday, the NFL acknowledged there should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference but otherwise backed the call. Guess the 0.1 percent has 100 percent of the power.