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So how did the scab refs do in Week 1 of the NFL?

Pretty bloody awful.

The Green Bay-San Francisco game was particularly egregious:

Midway through the second quarter at Lambeau Field, there was an offensive pass interference call on Green Bay’s James Jones that Gierke considered questionable. But during the same drive, San Francisco free safety Dashon Goldson was called for pass interference on Packers tight end Jermichael Finley and the infraction was flagged by the linesman, not the official in the end zone. The official in the end zone left his post to ask the linesman what he saw, which led to an incident between Finley and another San Francisco defensive back.

“(The official in the end zone) left his primary responsibility,” Gierke said. “You don’t turn your back on players. He left because he wanted to see what the other guy called. It should have been his call.

“He stopped officiating, basically.”

Earlier in that game, there was a false start by 49ers left tackle Joe Staley. And at the start of the fourth quarter, Randall Cobb’s 75-yard punt return for a touchdown was flagged for an illegal block in the back but then overturned.

Refs didn’t even know the rules about the two-minute warning in the Pittsburgh-Denver game.

But nothing was worse than the Seattle-Arizona game:

As Seattle drove down the field late in the fourth quarter, referee Bruce Hermansen granted the Seahawks an extra timeout. The crew gathered and began deliberations, delaying play with about 90 seconds remaining on the game clock. After about five minutes of review the crew came back with the wrong answer and ruled Seattle had one timeout remaining.

Here is what head referee Bruce Hermansen had to say following the conclusion of the game, which Arizona won 20-16.

“It was my error. We gave them (SEA) the additional timeout because of the incomplete pass stopping the clock before the injury occurred. When in effect, the clock has no bearing on the play at all, whether it’s stopped or running, we should not have given them (SEA) the additional timeout.

Of course, my Seahawks still couldn’t take score to win the game….

Which is too bad, not only because it would have been a win for my team, but because it would have been an example of the scabs robbing a team (and its outraged fanbase) of a win and possibly a playoff appearance. The pressure on the NFL after that happened would have been (and will be) enormous.

As Laura Clawson writes, the NFL Players Association is really worried about the safety of their members
. But the NFL has always put profit ahead of player safety and locking out the referees is no exception.

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  • CaptBackslap

    The Seahawks would have won, had the receiver on the 4th down pass been almost anyone but Braylon Edwards. The ball went right through his hands, as so many others have before.

    • Braylon Edwards is horrible.

      • Anonymous

        How awful is Braylon Edwards?

        The receiver-less Browns let him go.

        • Colin

          Oops – that was me.

  • JonathanW

    What exactly are the striking refs’ demands, anyway?

    • They aren’t striking–they were locked out. The NFL is trying to destroy their pension plan, among other things.

  • But nothing was worse than the Seattle-Arizona game

    I thought we were talking about the refs?

    and possibly a playoff appearance


    The replacement refs do kind of suck, but it hasn’t been as bad as I’d feared. The whole “extra TO” thing is a pretty strong refutation of my observation, though.

    • Wait until their terrible calls costs the Cowboys a game.

      • Richard

        There was absolutely no, except here on this blog, fan outrage at the refs. From the little I saw, and the print coverage I’ve read, the mistakes were no different than the blown calls one sees every week of the NFL.

        • mpowell

          The coverage is all from sources that play nice with NFL management. To an informed viewer, the difference was pretty apparent.

          • It’s pretty apparent that the broadcasters of the national games, in particular, got a stern memo from the NFL to knock off the criticism of the scabs after the preseason.

            • wengler

              If so, a lot of them didn’t follow it.

  • As bad as they’ve been, it has been a fun subplot to listen to the announcers tap dance around all the bad calls. They have to mention the bad calls, and they have to mention that the zebras are all “replacements”, but they’re under very strict orders not to put two and two together. It’s amusing as hell.

    • John

      It’s pretty obnoxious that the networks feel it is their job to propagandize for the league. Broadcasters aren’t NFL employees, right?

      • Cody

        Well, the networks pay the NFL to broadcast their games. So ESPN wouldn’t want to piss the NFL off if they want to show NFL games next season.

        • John

          Which is a really horrendous situation when sportscasters are pretending to be “journalists.”

    • Hanspeter

      I was thoroughly amused at the announcers pointing out that some flags weren’t thrown until more than 5 milliseconds had passed after the foul. Have they not watched the NFL for the past 4 decades?

    • wengler

      Yeah, it’s kind of like cable news.

  • Eric S

    I don’t really watch football. It’s not my sport. I am curious about one thing though. I’ve scanned couple of these articles listing the number of errors made by the replacement refs. Is there any baseline to compare to the regular refs?

    • I don’t know of any statistical analysis. But NFL refs are really, really good at their jobs. You just don’t see screw-ups like you did on Sunday.

      • Richard

        Thats just not true. The regular NFL refs, all part time employees, blow pass interference calls every week.

        And the claim that they are better at their jobs than MLB umps, who ARE full time employees, is just farcical. Do you have any evidence at all for this claim (other than your general impressions)?

        Erik, you were sure that the lockout would be resolved before the start of the season. You were dead wrong. You have also been saying that as soon as the fans and the owners who lose a game because of replacement refs weigh in, the league will buckle. I believe you will be proved wrong on that as well.

        Here’s my prediction. There will be no resolution of the dispute over the next two weeks. There will be no fan or owner outrage. At that time, the refs, faced with no options, will cave in and accept the owner’s current offer, along with a token concession so that they can save face by taking the owner offer.

        • Please to be telling the Bengals and Ravens fans I know (which is a lot) that there’s no outrage at the replacement referees after last night’s absolute debacle. Hell, the Ravens won a blowout and there’s STILL a very large amount of anger directed at the refs on local radio today.

          • Richard

            Will that translate into a single fan not watching the respective games this weekend or in an owner telling the commissioner to make a deal with the refs? I believe not.

            From my limited watching this weekend (the Broncos-Steeler game and the Raider-Charger game last night), the erros weren’t any different than in a game from years past and, for those two games, had absolutely no effect on the outcome.

            • wengler

              You didn’t see the game where they gave the extra timeout, and you obviously haven’t seen how defensive players are taking maximum advantage of the terribleness of the replacement refs.

              • Richard

                I saw the replay of the extra timeout call. Mistake by the refs. Had no impact at all in the game.

                In the two games I saw, I saw nothing – let me repeat nothing – indicating defensive players were taking advantage of the refs. Instead I saw some great playing by Payton after a slow start and some incredibly horrible special team work by the Raider’s punt team.

          • Ed

            There’s a lot of whingeing on the radio in my area, too, but often as not it’s followed with something along the lines of, “the regular refs aren’t any better.” I don’t see fan outrage as a significant factor at present.

          • Jim

            And that’s different from the regular refs how?

        • wengler

          MLB umps are much better than NFL refs could ever be because a) they have a professional development program, and b) they have a merit-based advancement structure concurrent with baseball’s professional league structure(the NFL has no professional league structure) and c) baseball is a simpler sport with more commonsense rules.

          That doesn’t mean some MLB umps are horrible all the time and some of them are horrible part of the time. But it does mean that a sport like American football where you have ten million rules that are never equally applied even by the best refs can be royally screwed up by amateurs.

          • Richard

            But the replacement refs aren’t amateurs. They all have college football experience for which they have been paid.. Yeah, its a somewhat different game but its not something you can’t learn in a season of calling NFL games.

            And the union NFL refs are part-timers, unlike MLB umps. Do I think the league should sign a decent contract with the union? Yes. Do I think that football will be irreparably harmed if that doesn’t happen this year (or that attendance or viewership will suffer)? Absolutely not.

            • “Yeah, its a somewhat different game but its not something you can’t learn in a season of calling NFL games.”

              No, it’s a very different game, and an entire cadre of referees probably can’t all learn to do it in one season’s worth of games.

              • There was an interesting story on this in Sports Illustrated.

                The rule books and case books that NFL refs are expected to know, added together, contain more words than the Old Testament.

      • Corey

        Hahaha – do you even watch the NFL? Officiating drama is an essential part of the product.

        • You really have to be the stupidest commenter on LGM.

    • In other words, NFL refs are way better at their jobs than MLB umpires.

      • I…don’t think that is true at all. I guess if by “MLB Umpires” you mean “the subset of umpires who are completely abysmal and wouldn’t have jobs if not for the super strong umpires’ union,” then perhaps, but on the whole I think they’re relatively even, with the NFL referees having a much higher proportion of purely judgment calls to adjudicate.

    • Joshua

      If the regular refs even made one of the screw-ups of the sort mentioned (or the many others not mentioned), it would’ve been all over SportsCenter the next day.

      Like the banking industry, the replacement refs and the NFL are getting the benefit of being too incompetent.

      I watched the 49ers/Packers game and it was clear the refs had zero control over it. The calls were basically arbitrary and they looked clueless. I can’t think of a time I saw that in the NFL, although it’s quite common with second-tier college games.

      • Which given that these are second-tier college refs, makes a lot of sense.

        • Joshua

          Yea, and it’s worth noting the difference between the NFL and D-II football: it’s far faster and more physical while also a lot more subtle. Plus there’s a load of differences in the rules, many of which are quite nuanced. These refs a lot of times didn’t even seem to know what the rules were, which makes sense. This isn’t like baseball, where an out and a strike looks pretty much the same everywhere.

          I mean, the head ref of the opening game cut his chops in the Arena Football League for heaven’s sake. This is a farce.

  • Colin Day

    Had the refs in the New England-Tennessee game called it an incompletion rather than a catch/fumble, Jake Locker might not have been hurt.

    • mark f

      They also blew (what should’ve been) an end zone PI call against New England early in that game, but I guess that’s more routine.

  • JR in WV

    In several of the games I watched Sunday it looked like players were coaching the Refs on the NFL rules.

    Pretty embarrassing if you ask me. I think I may know the rules as well as the scabs, not that I could make the visual calls as well as guys who have been on the field for years, but still.

    Very sad. I hope the players decide to use the health and safety rule to poke the owners in the eye, just stop the travesty.

  • mpowell

    This is just the standard corporate M.O. these days. It doesn’t really matter whether a union has reasonable demands or not. And it doesn’t matter what it will cost you to break the union. You break the union. You absorb the costs and then you enjoy cheaper labor down the road. Of course, cheaper labor is frequently worse labor and I wonder if once the NFL breaks the union they find that people interested in the job just aren’t quite up to par as their old refs. Even after adequate training.

  • Froley

    In the Broncos-Steelers game they missed Manning snapping the ball quickly to catch 12 men on the field and they allowed a challenge from Tomlin after Manning had hurried to the line and snapped the ball to avoid a replay. How do you have those calls when the casual fan has seen Manning do both those actions about 1,000 times in the last decade?

    • mark f

      I was only half paying attention to the Denver-Pittsburgh game but IIRC Tomlin had the flag on the field before the snap. It seemed to me at the time like Tomlin was waiting til the last second for some reason, the way they’ll do with timeouts before FGs. I think they actually reviewed the tape of that before agreeing to review the tape of the play in question.

      But again, I was only half paying attention.

      • Anonymous

        the refs were evidently only half paying attention. The refs have to acknowledge the challenge flag, it doesn’t matter if it’s on the field if it isn’t seen.

        I mostly watched NFL Red Zone, but in their coverage there were at least a half dozen phantom interference calls

      • gorillagogo

        That’s a pretty fair description. As a die hard Steelers fan, I was pretty upset with Tomlin’s challenge and was hoping it would be disallowed, since the guy was clearly down and Manning’s quick snap meant the Broncos would have burned a down.

        Unfortunately the refs weren’t incompetent enough to save Tomlin from his own ineptitude.

      • Froley

        It was close and I think you’re right to say his flag was thrown before the ball was snapped. But there was no whistle blown to halt the play. With the real refs, they would have been aware that there was controversy and one would have been next to Tomlin ready to stop action. The replacement refs are very bad at anticipating and are reacting well after something has happened.

    • tonycpsu

      Wasn’t there an electronic paging system when they first implemented challenges? I seem to remember the flag being a “plan B” for when the paging thing didn’t work. Did they ditch that?

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, they got rid of it because coaches were hitting the buzzer to stop play (if they needed to sub in a player or needed to rest gassed defenders or just wanted to stop momentum) and then claiming that they accidently pressed the button and didn’t mean to make a challenge.

        • tonycpsu

          Ah, well screw Mike Tomlin, then, even though he probably wasn’t a head coach when they made that decision. Live by the challenge flag, die by the challenge flag Roethlisberger arm punts.

  • tonycpsu

    Somewhere, Chris Webber is on his porch sipping whiskey and wishing Bruce Hermansen had worked the 1993 NCAA final.

  • efgoldman

    …the NFL Players Association is really worried about the safety of their members. But the NFL has always put profit ahead of player safety and locking out the referees is no exception.

    I didn’t count them, but I saw a number of helmet-to-helmet collisions in the games I watched. In some, the runner lowered his head, but in others, not so much.
    Pass interference is a crapshoot, but then it always is, with the regular refs, too.
    Holding calls are way down. It isn’t because blocking techniques are any better.

  • The damage the NFL is doing to its brand – its carefully-cultivated brand as the highest-quality sports operation on the planet – makes it clear (to me, anyway) that the behavior of the owners cannot be explained in terms of rational profit-maximization, and is best understood as the protection of class privilege.

    Their goal here is not to save a few bucks but to, literally, show the refs who’s boss.

    • mpowell

      Shitting on the union is the 2nd highest priority in corporate management strategy. The highest strategy is maximizing CEO compensation. The NFL doesn’t have a true CEO. All other strategies are secondary.

    • firefall

      Yes. Union busting is very rarely a rational profit-maximising decision, but one made for macho and other testosterone-fuelled reasons, or pure animus. From the data I saw (somewhat dated and concerning other countries, admittedly), having a union generally results in better & more stable profits, unless/until the management try to break the union.

  • Stan Gable

    What is the players union actively doing about the situation? Anything at all?

    • Sherm

      They could put icy hot in the scabs’ jocks.

      • Stan Gable

        Or they could refuse to take the field with replacement refs. I’m assuming there’s been no hinting at that and that is unfortunate.

        • Theoretically a secondary strike over safety might be possible under U.S. labor law, but a strike during the duration of the NFLPA contract is explicitly denied the players.

          • Stan Gable

            So what? The players have a huge amount of leverage right now that they won’t have at almost any other time – most of the time they’ll get raked over the coals for being greedy players but they’ve got a legitimate beef over safety and integrity.

            They need to be making some noises at minimum.

            • Sherm

              Guys with three year careers are not going to sacrifice game checks to show solidarity with the referee’s union, plus the players’ union will get hit with injunctions, fines, etc…

              Just ain’t gonna happen.

              • Richard

                Plus their contract with the owners EXPLICITLY bans any third party strikes. So if they even considered a strike, which is very unlikely to begin with, the owners could enjoin the strike and get considerable legal damages if games were actually not played.

                • Although, again, if the union thought this was a severe safety hazard, there is a clause in labor law allowing for a strike. However, the legal fees around making that very contested move basically makes it impossible.

                • Richard

                  But the CBA only allows the players to strike if the security of their union is at stake. They CANNOT strike for safety reasons. And no argument can be legitimately made that the ref situation affects the security of the player’s union.

                • Stan Gable

                  They CANNOT strike for safety reasons

                  So the league could mandate that the players wear spikes on their helmets and that one player per team carry a battleaxe and that would be kosher?

                  At some point they need to look beyond the legalities. I agree that this isn’t the right time to strike but they really ought to speak up just to put more pressure on the owners.

                • Richard

                  You look to the CBA about implementation of new rules. I dont know whether there is a provision for player input in new rule implementation. Assuming there isn’t, then you can’t strike in the very unlikely event that the owners mandate spikes. You, as the union, are bound by the provisions you entered into. You always have the option of negotiating for different terms in the next CBA

        • Sherm

          Barred by the CBA. And there is no way in hell that Union would hold together if leadership called for a strike, which they can’t.

          • Stan Gable

            They don’t need to call for a strike. They need to articulate that it’s an option they may need to explore in order to preserve the safety of their members.

            • mark f

              You should get a computer with Google on it:

              “In America it is the employer’s obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible,” [NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice] Smith told the [SI.com]. “We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation, we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate. The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and — by their own admission — further our goal of enhanced safety. That is absurd on its face.”

              • Stan Gable

                Then I stand corrected – thanks

        • mark f

          Their own contract prohibits it:

          After a contentious labor dispute last year, the NFL and NFLPA entered into a new collective bargaining agreement. Article 3, section 1 of that collective bargaining agreement contains a “No Strike/Lockout” clause. That clause provides that except for a very limited set of facts, the NFLPA will not strike during the term of the collective bargaining agreement.

          The NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement provides that during the course of its term, a strike may only be authorized pursuant to Article 46, section 6, related to union security. Thus, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFLPA can only authorize a strike of its players if the security of the union to operate as a union is put into jeopardy.

  • I just don’t see how this is going to make any difference: sure, the replacement refs made bad calls. Well? Is even one person actually going to stop watching NFL games because of this? Is anyone HERE? I hardly think the awesome power of Grumbling On The Internet is going to prove any kind of impetus for anything. It sucks, but I just don’t see where this alleged pressure on the league is going to come from.

    • mpowell

      It makes a difference to me. The only reason it will have a small difference on my viewing choices is that the NFL doesn’t face a lot of compelling competition for these time slots (and I don’t watch MLB). But if the NBA playoffs were occuring, I would be watching a lot less NFL with crappy refs.

      • Richard

        You’re the only one. TV ratings are huge for the first weekend. The Bronco-Steeler game got the highest ratings for any regular season game ever. Fans don’t care about the ref situation.

        • tonycpsu

          On the contrary, fans do care, and it’s now part of the story, hence it’s part of the reason to tune in. “What crucial calls will the refs blow this week?” Suddenly a meaningless game between two cellar-dwelling teams could hinge on a blatantly-missed call.

          Sports fans love the unscripted nature of the entertainment — what could be more unscripted than these game-changing blown calls?

          • Richard

            I dont think the Broncos-Steeler game got a single extra viewer because of the ref situation. People wanted to see if Payton’s return would be a success. People are arguing that attendance will be down because of scab refs and that it will be up because of the drama created by scab refs. I dont think the ref situation affects attendance at all.

            • tonycpsu

              You’re probably correct about the PIT-DEN game, but for the less interesting games without a big story like Peyton’s return, I do think the replacement refs add an element of intrigue and suspense to games that might otherwise not pique the interest of fans without a rooting interest in either team.

              • Richard

                I guess thats possible but I still think its unlikely. I’ll bet that way over 50% of tv viewership was totally unaware there was a referee strike.

                • tonycpsu

                  I concede that point, but I do think there’s a certain train-wreck aspect of it that will keep sports fans who do know about the strike glued to the football game instead of flipping over to the Sunday afternoon baseball game, or, *shudder* going outside.

        • wengler

          This is a sport at the height of its popularity. Little things like crappy refs can join with the epidemic of suicides, and the growing science of the danger of head injuries to begin its decline.

          • Henry Holland

            Add to wengler‘s list:

            the sky-high price of going to a game (tickets + food/drink + parking) is making people realize that going to a game is more trouble than it’s worth.

            The alternative: sitting on a comfy couch with your buddies; plentiful food and booze that, for example, doesn’t cost $12 for a 12 oz. Bud Light like at the stadium; no hideously long lines for the bathrooms; watching the games on a kick-ass big screen and if you’re like my buddy I go watch with, having NFL Sunday Ticket that allows you to watch 8 games at once (commercial breaks? what are those?) or switch between games quickly.

    • Joshua

      It’s not just about eyeballs. The NFL has cultivated an image over the decades of being an elite organization top-to-bottom. The NFL spends its every waking moment ensuring the quality of “the product” (a term I first heard being applied to a sporting event regarding the NFL) is consistently and ludicrously high week-after-week, game-after-game.

      … until this past weekend? The refs were junk and “the product” noticeably suffered. NFL fans are very savvy; they know what happened. I find it tough to believe that Goodell and the owners would be willing to throw away a decades-in-the-making image to save a couple million bucks, but so it is.

      • Richard

        As I said above, the ref situation is not affecting attendance or viewership at all. Viewership is up in the first week. I’m willing to bet that this doesn’t change in the next few weeks.

        Given the relatively slight degree of fan and owner outrage, my prediction is that we will have one or two more weeks of replacement refs and then the regular refs will capitulate and accept, with only the most minor of revisions, the offer made by the owners. Without either fan or owner outrage, the refs simply have no leverage.

  • Kurzleg

    Erik’s just mad that Pete Carroll thinks 5’10” Russell Wilson is a better QB than Matt Flynn based on one training camp and a few preseason games. Needless to say, I think Flynn would have had a better outing against the Cardinals than Wilson did.

    And what’s with Seattle trying to corner the market on QBs from Wisconsin teams?

    • I believe in Russell Wilson! Maybe because I have to, but still…..

  • Do all you lib com-symp sissies feel you have to obsessively discuss sports in order to “show mommy something?”

    If NFL is so damn evil, why pay it any attention other than an obligatory “The season of evil has started” post, that might point out the formalized violence of the game & its ugly reflection of American society?

  • Steve S.

    “Which is too bad, not only because it would have been a win for my team, but because it would have been an example of the scabs robbing a team”

    The mistake was inexcusable but it conferred no competitive advantage. Seattle had more than adequate time to run four goal-to-go plays even without the extra time out. In fact, thinking they had a time out the Seahawks called a pointless running play which did nothing but waste one of those goal-to-go opportunities. If the refs had assigned the times out correctly the Seahawks more likely would have substituted a pass play for that run and actually increased the possibility of winning.

    While there’s a good deal of obsessing about this call the real scandal over the weekend was the absolute mania, in this game and the others I watched, of the scab refs to call pass interference. After a while I half expected to see PI called on running plays. That and every other penalty in the book. Kinda ruins the flow of the game.

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