National Football League
Replacements look lost in Week 3
National Football League

Replacements look lost in Week 3

Published Sep. 23, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET


A state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.

Webster, meet Week 3 of the NFL.

If you thought things were bad last week with "The Replacements," it only got more confusing Sunday. It simply comes down to this: The replacement officials don't know the NFL rules, they don't know how to enforce what they don't know and they don't know how to manage the games.


I want to be clear — it's not the replacement officials' fault — they are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation.

But here are four examples from Sunday that are a microcosm of the bigger, overall problem.

1. San Francisco at Minnesota

This mess all started with San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh calling his first timeout of the second half with 3:39 left in the game. Harbaugh called timeouts on three consecutive plays, but I want to focus on the third play.

Here was the situation: Minnesota had the ball, second-and-10 at the San Francisco 35-yard line with 3:35 left in the game. Minnesota led 24-13.

Vikings running back Toby Gerhart rushed up the middle for no gain. Gerhart fumbled, but the officials ruled he was down and the clock kept running. Harbaugh called a timeout to stop the clock. Later, during the timeout, he decided to challenge the play. The call was reversed and the 49ers were awarded the ball.

I've mentioned that the replacements don't know the rules very well, but neither does Harbaugh. And shockingly, it appeared Sunday, that neither do the replay officials. These guys aren't even replacements, they are the regular guys. The replay officials have a different collective bargaining agreement.

I knew the replacements would struggle. I'm really more surprised by some of the things I'm seeing coming out of the replay booth.

Harbaugh should never have been allowed to challenge. Since Harbaugh used his final timeout to stop the clock, he would have needed a timeout to initiate a challenge. This is a basic replay rule. The replay official should have stopped this madness and told the referee that he could not review the play.

Can you imagine what would have happened if San Francisco would have come back and won this game after erroneously being awarded the ball?

2. Philadelphia at Arizona

Hope you're sitting down for this one.

Here was the situation: Arizona had the ball, first-and-10 at the Philadelphia 46-yard line with 12:24 left in the second quarter. Arizona led 10-0.

This was the most confusing sequence of events that happened all day.

Arizona running back Ryan Williams ran for nine yards and after the play, the Cardinals' Anthony Sherman got called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Since it's a dead-ball foul enforcement, the down counts and it should have been second-and-16. But the referee announced that it was still first down and the graphics on the TV screen reinforced his announcement. The next play resulted in a sack, but holding was called on Arizona's D'Anthony Batiste.

The referee then got confused as to what down it was, which led Philadelphia to decline the penalty and then accept it.

Hell, I'm getting confused just writing this.

The referee said second down, then he said third down and then after talking with Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, he went back to second down with the penalty being accepted. Eventually, after a long delay and an earful from both coaches as well as the alternate official, they got it right.

3. Cincinnati at Washington

Here was the situation: Washington had the ball, first-and-10 from the Washington 13-yard line with 1:26 left in the game. Cincinnati led 38-31.

Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III completed an 11-yard pass to Josh Morgan, who was injured on the play and the clock was stopped at the 1:07 mark. The referee announced that there was a 10-second runoff and the clock should have been reset to 57 seconds, but it was not.

This is hard to explain. The replacement referee made the correct announcement since the injury caused the clock to stop and there needed to be a 10-second runoff. The rule states that inside of two minutes, if the offense sustains an injury that stops the clock, there is a 10-second runoff, unless the offense still has a timeout remaining. Washington did not have any timeouts left and therefore, the 10-second runoff was the proper interpretation.

But wait. Somebody got involved and told the referee it wasn't a 10-second runoff. So no runoff was enforced, but there should have been.

4. Buffalo at Cleveland

Here was the situation: Buffalo was kicking off with 5:06 left in the first quarter. Buffalo led 14-0.

John Potter kicked the ball 73 yards to Josh Cribbs, who returned it nine yards, then fumbled and it was recovered by Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy. The officials ruled that Cribbs was down by contact. Buffalo tried to challenge the fumble, but the officials wouldn't allow it.

Again, this is a lack of knowledge of the basic rules. A ruling of down by contact is reviewable and if the ball is fumbled prior to the runner being down, the ruling can be challenged and the ball can be awarded to the team that recovers the fumble.

This is a basic replay rule. If the officials would have ruled forward progress stopped before the fumble, then it would not be reviewable. Forward progress is not reviewable, but a ruling of down by contact is.

So after further review, Week 3 was not pretty. For all of those who say the integrity of the game isn't being compromised, I disagree.

Again, I'm not taking sides, I'd just like to see the NFL and the real referees get back to the table and get this solved.


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