And the NFL’s referees are back!

Roy Helu Jr.

See? Now how hard was that?

Amazing what one comical nationally televised debacle will do to spur negotiations. In the not-shock of the year, the NFL and its regular referees ironed out their differences before the replacements could take the field again.

A more dedicated blogger might recount the 10 funniest moments in replacement official history, but haven’t those guys suffered enough? I’m not even sure they have jobs to go back to. Let’s salute them for their service, and welcome back Ed Hochuli, Mike Carey, Jeff Triplett, Gene Steratore and all the other referees whose names we don’t even know. It’s much easier to appreciate what a solid job they do now that we’ve seen other officials look so amateurish at it.

I’ve seen enough lockouts to last me the rest of my sports-watching life. (Sorry NHL fans.) If only all the major sports could agree on some kind of common-sense rule to handle all labor strife behind closed doors, in the offseason, when fans could properly ignore it.

Helu shelved

About this time last year, Tim Hightower rushed 20 times for 96 yards against the Cardinals, while we got our first glimpse of Roy Helu, Jr. In that same Week 2 game against the Cardinals, Helu carried 10 times for 74 yards and added another 38 receiving, pushing both Helu and Hightower over 100 yards from scrimmage in the game. A couple week later, in Week 4 against the Rams, Ryan Torain rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries.

Torain and Hightower are both currently out of football, and Helu went on injured reserve this week with two Achilles’ tendons that are bothering him, plus a turf toe injury.

On Sunday against the Buccaneers, the Redskins running back stable will include Alfred Morris, Ryan Grant and Evan Royster, if he’s healthy. Fullback Darrel Young and wide receiver Brandon Banks could get carries, or the Redskins could commit to a pass-heavy game plan. They’ve said they want to reduce the number of hits Robert Griffin III is taking, which means either the option stuff is out, or the quarterback has to be smarter about how he operates on those plays (which to his credit, he said he’s willing to do).

I don’t know if it’s a function of the Shanahan offense/regime to make running backs disposable, or just bad luck that three guys who were effective in the Redskins’ backfield a year ago won’t be playing this week. In one sense, the Redskins are fortunate to have two guys as talented as Morris and Grant available. On the other hand, if Grant hardly knows the plays, one wonders how hard they’ll want to ride Morris. Given how he’s run, and how the team rushed for more than 200 yards last week, it would seem wise, even against Tampa Bay’s No. 1-in-the-NFL-so-far rush defense. But if Morris gets banged up, then what?

NFC worry index

Thought I’d throw something out there for you guys to kick around in the comments. Six NFC teams are going to make the playoffs, and you want the Redskins to be one of them. The 1-2 Packers and 0-3 Saints, two of the NFC’s favorites, face off this week. That means one is picking up another loss, and looking like it’s got a tough hill to climb. It’s early of course, but let’s take a brief glance around the NFC and see which teams are most likely to stand in the way of the Redskins making the playoffs. Feel free to disagree below, but leave your reasoning.

1. Atlanta Falcons. It’s hard for me to fear this team, since they always seem to flame out when the spotlight is on. But they’re 3-0 and play the Panthers, Redskins and Raiders next, and then hit the bye. They could go 6-0 and be the NFL’s last undefeated team. (Only the Texans and Cardinals are also undefeated as we speak.)

2. New York Giants. You’ve got to respect the way the Giants respond when so many players are banged up. As long as they have Eli Manning, it seems like they have a chance. They play the Eagles on Sunday night, which means someone in the division picks up a loss. It’ll also help us figure out if the Giants are going to be their usual streaky selves, or dominant.

3. Green Bay Packers. They’re 1-2, but they still worry me. Their playmakers are healthy. A win this week and they’re fine.

4. San Francisco 49ers. Famous for practicing the lost art of tackling. If they hadn’t lost to the Vikings, they might be the NFC’s No. 1. In all honesty, they still worry me more than most.

5. Detroit Lions. May be on the verge of putting it all together, but the back end of the defense and running game can be shaky at times.

6. Arizona Cardinals. They’re 3-0, but honestly, do they worry you? The one thing I like about QB Kevin Kolb: He knows to feed Larry Fitzgerald, and let one of the NFL’s best wide receivers do the rest.

7. Philadelphia Eagles. It’s starting to seem like they are what they were last season. An immensely talented turnover machine that can beat any team in the league … or lose to any team.

8. Chicago Bears. They’re 2-1, and they win ugly, but those still count. I like Jay Cutler more than most people, and if he’s on his game, the Bears have as much talent as anyone.

9. New Orleans. They haven’t been good so far, and I think Sean Payton is more mastermind than he gets credit for. They’re the only 0-3 team in the NFC, but be honest, who worries you more going forward, the Saints or the Seahawks?

10. Seattle Seahawks. It’s a shaky 2-1, sure. But Pete Carroll’s enthusiasm is infectious, Qwest Field is one of the NFL’s toughest road venues, and they’ve beaten the Cowboys and Packers. Do they worry me? Not terribly, but respect due.

11. Dallas Cowboys. I have to be honest, this is not a team I fear. They have good top-end talent, but their depth and their makeup just seems a bit off. They lost by 20 to the Seahawks and underwhelmed in beating the Bucs. We’ll find out more about them Monday night vs. the Bears.

12. Carolina Panthers: One-man teams don’t get very far, and Cam Newton is all that concerns me about facing these guys. Okay, maybe Steve Smith and the backfield trio too. But Ron Rivera made his name on defense, yet these guys are 24th in the NFL so far.

13. Washington Redskins. I guess it’s silly to rank the Redskins since there’s no way they can stand in the way of themselves getting a playoff berth. But if I left them out, we’d all be arguing over where to slot the Redskins, so here they are. Yes, ahead of the Rams.

14. Minnesota Vikings. Adrian Peterson is a handful when healthy. Christian Ponder looked against the 49ers like he was coming into his own. But I can’t think of many reasons why these guys would stand in the way of a playoff spot.

15. St. Louis Rams. They have beaten the Redskins. They do look like they are adopting Jeff Fisher’s identity. But no team’s roster worries me less. They only go ahead of the Bucs because Tampa Bay has more to contend with in its division, assuming the Saints get on track.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yup. This week’s opponent is the least-scary team in the NFC. I know football games are won with team efforts, not just big names. But outside of Vincent Jackson, is there a player on the Bucs that strikes fear into you? (and Aqib Talib doesn’t count; I mean on the field).

This list is highly subjective and meant to be disagreed with. Feel free to re-order things below.

Friday callout

Don’t forget, send along your one-sentence (!) thing you’d like to see from the Redskins on Sunday. I’ll compile the best, and use them in Friday’s Opening Kick. Unless you guys boycott this idea like all but one of you did last week. E-mail mcmillank@washpost.com.

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Redskins would welcome referees' return